Easter Sermon

On the Road

Mark 16:1-8

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(prologue)

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

The resurrection story we just read from Mark may not be the one you are most familiar with. Where is Peter running to the tomb? Where are the angels? Where is the spectacular? The reading to day ends with the women frozen by fear and Jesus moving on the road. 

Now you may say, Pastor, why didn’t we read the rest Mark 16? Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene then the twelve. Then he commissions them and ascends to the right hand of God the Parent. Well, (It is Bible Nerd time) if you look in some translations, after verse 8 you see a note that says “shorter ending” and then around verse 10 “longer ending.” The longer ending of Mark was the accepted ending of the Gospel until around the mid-1800s when Constantine Tishcendorff discovered a codex or book of scripture at the Monastery of St. Catherine at the supposed site of Mt. Sinai. This codex had several differences between it and the common cannon of the day. One of the most noticeable is that the Gospel of Mark ended at verse 8, the ending we heard today.

But why not just keep reading? Well, it turns out once they were able to study the codex it turns out that it is the oldest of the existing manuscripts of the Bible. It dates to the mid-third century, around the same time as the fathers of the Western Church were beginning to nail down the cannon. It is the oldest complete manuscript we have. And it’s validity of Mark ending at 16:8 is confirmed by the second oldest complete manuscript the Codex Vaticianus which dates from around the same time.

It is thought the other endings were added not by the author of Mark, but by disciples of Matthew and Luke who thought that the Mark’s Gospel ended too abruptly and that it needed a similar closure as their gospels. And maybe it does, but for today, let’s see this ending for what it is…the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God – the opening words of the Gospel of Mark!

(Scene 1 – To the tomb)

The day did not begin with good news. The women solemnly gathered their oils and ointment. They filled their bags with new cloths and spices to anoint the body of the one whom they loved. The one who was crucified a few days before – who died a criminal’s death. The last several days had been a storm of emotions. The thunder and winds that accompanied his death were but weak symbols for the grief they felt. 

There watched from a distance as Jesus was lifted up like a common cut-throat; they watched as the one who rescued them, who welcomed them, who treated them as women of honor, was left hanging on a tree. He was so strong and yet compassionate; so fully of Holy Fire yet a friend; so tired yet so willing to listen – Jesus called them friends and now they watched – hearts breaking into a million pieces as he cried out.

They could not hear the words he said, but the moan they heard was one of total abandonment. In that cry they heard love poured out. They remembered how time and again Jesus healed the sick and exorcised the demons only to be ridiculed and taunted by those who were the religious leaders. They saw that no matter how hard he tried to show the Reign of God – everyone missed it. And now, from the distance, they see how such love is treated. The grief was accompanied by dread.

The dread brought with it fear. The words he spoke reverberated in their ears…”I will tear down this temple and rebuild it in three days.” “If anyone wants to become my follower let them take up their cross and follow me.” Is this what he meant? That they should suffer as he has. Fear slithered into them like a serpent through the grass. Grief, dread, and fear seared their psyche as they watched from the distance.

And now, days later they make their way to the tomb – wondering how they will move the stone sealing the door. Eyes cloudy with tears they did not realize at first what had happened, and like the sun making its way over the horizon early that morning it dawned on them that the tomb door was opened. The emotional triad climbed to stratospheric proportions as they saw the empty tombs – 10,000 questions filled their heads. “What happened?” “Is he still there?” “Was his body stolen to be displayed as a criminal?” Questions echoing then the empty cave as the entered in and saw a first the empty place where he was laid and in a flash they saw someone sitting there – who must have been there the whole time. 

He was the boy who had been following Jesus of late. They could not place where he came from, but he was beautiful. Young with the complexion of a divine being, he sat there in the tomb and said, “Shhh. Don’t be alarmed. Are you looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified? He has been raised! He’s not here! Look, see. But, go, tell his disciples and especially Peter, who denied him, that he is going a head of you to Galilee. When you get there you will see him, just as I told you.”

The grief, the dread, the fear drove them from the empty tomb. They fell to the ground weeping. Afraid. They did not tell anyone, for they were afraid.

(Scene 2: At our tomb)

The women, seized by fear told no one what they had seen. They were blinded by the tomb and all that death brings. They could not hear what the boy was saying, let alone believe that it was true. They were trapped at the tomb – stuck on death’s doorstep.

As we gather together this Easter morning, it is easy to cast blame on the women – how could they not tell, we ask? What was wrong with them? Friends we have had 2,000 years to process the grief. This, for them, was a fresh wound and the bandage had been ripped off slowly and the pain was all too fresh. We have the blessing of tradition and the retelling and retelling of this story to help us come to grips with the fact that the tomb was empty, and yet, even so how many times are we trapped at the tomb afraid to follow Jesus to Galilee?

How many times have we stood there silent when what is going on demands that we speak out? 

When we see a stranger being taken advantage of – or even a friends, How many times have we said, There but for the grace of God go I?

What about the time we watched as someone was beaten up when we were at school and we could not muster the courage to say, this is wrong? The time we sat in silence as the bullies prey on the weak? 

We are frozen at the tomb when he hear the cries for help and pretend that we don’t.

When the news gets so depressing that we shut off – 130 killed intentionally by a pilot, 147 Kenyans murdered by terrorists.

When the public discourse has become so divisive that anyone who disagrees with us is labeled the enemy and must be destroyed. Laws are passed that open up the slippery slope of discrimination, and pizza places are threatened to be burned down – all because there is a failure to see each other as precious in the eyes of God. It doesn’t matter on which side of the fence you lean – this fundamental principle is lost because we are trapped at the tomb.

We are trapped at the tomb to afraid to stand up to a system that disproportionately imprisons black and brown men – a system that determines how many prison beds to make by third grade reading scores. A system that is paid by how man beds are filled. A system that has privatized parole and drug testing, making it too expensive for a returning citizen to pay the fees, especially when there are no jobs open to someone with a record. We are trapped at the tomb afraid to name the injustice.

We get lost watching from the distance – we stand trembling at the tomb – afraid – just as afraid as the women because we can’t see it. We can’t hear the good news because there seemingly isn’t any.

(Scene 3: It’s empty!)

But while the women were cowering in fear, while we are paralyzed and afraid – the tomb is empty! You hear that, the tomb is empty! Jesus ain’t in it anymore. He has been raised and is on his way to Galilee! He is on the road home. He is calling for us to join him on the road.

While lost in our fear and afraid to take up the cross, something amazing has happened – Jesus has been raised and is continuing the work of the Reign of God. He wants us to join him on the road. He wants us to see the empty tomb and rejoice and come with him as he continues the work. He even leaves us a messenger to tell us that he is not there. He has been raised. But even so, the messenger’s voice gets lost in the confusion and chaos. But Jesus keeps on going, and will be waiting in Galilee. 

Jesus is going a head of us on the road to raise up the valleys and make low the mountains. Jesus is headed to Galilee to make the rough ground in front of us plain and the rugged road a broad valley. Jesus knows that the idea of resurrection is implausible – illogical, and he knows that it is hard to make sense of, and yet – there he goes – in front of us. 

It seems obvious that at least someone who was there that day so long ago overcame their fear and made their way to Galilee, or was it that when the looked up they saw Jesus there on the road. They say that he was in front of them leading them. That the risen Christ is proof that nothing – nothing is impossible of our God. I would like to think it is the later. That in their fear and through their tears they looked up and saw Jesus and in seeing him, their hope was restored. There ahead of them they saw the promise of the rebuilt temple. The temple that is a living connection between God and humanity.

And as they saw Jesus on the road and were empowered to take the steps toward healing, we continue to see Christ on the road.

As two mourning disciples were headed home to Emmaus, Christ was on the road.

As the persecutor Saul was on his way to arrest and torture the new people of the way, Christ was on the road. On the road reconciling the world to himself. On the road forgiving and renewing.

As the stones were being hurled as Stephen, Christ was ahead of him on road – welcoming him to Glory.

As Perpetua and Felicity were in the gladiators ring, and the wild beast charged at the, Christ was on the road ahead of them – giving them a message for the ages. The power of the Risen Christ is stronger than even death.

Move ahead ahead in time to the doors of Wittenberg and Martin Luther nailing to the them the 95 theses that began a reformation that fundamentally changed how the faith is understood, and there is Christ on the road promising protection during the upcoming trails.

There on the road is the Risen Christ when another Martin Luther, this one a King is leading and oppressed people to the promised land. Across the Edmund Pettus bridge, the risen Christ is ahead parting the sergeants of segregation.

Christ is on the road ahead, leading you out of the valley – away from the tumult of the tomb. 

The risen Christ is ahead of you making a way out of no way. Clearing away those roadblocks that keep you from God. 

The Risen Christ is there on the road as voices rise up against discrimination and call for reconciliation instead of retaliation.

The Risen Christ is there on the road ahead, turning over tables, as people, fed up with a status quo of the haves walking on the backs of the have nots, as the people stiffen their backs and say no more. We are not the playthings of those with power, but children of the living God. The God of life. The God who takes the shackles of death and smashes them forever. 

The Risen Christ is there on the road of sorrow and grief, building resting spot. Places of sabbath, of rest, of reflection and grace. The risen Christ there on the road with you.  

Beloved – This is the day that puts to and end, forever there roadblocks that keep you from the love of God. This is the day that being afraid at the tomb is turned into joy that empowers new life – a resurrected live. This is the day that the promise of Christ is fulfilled for Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen, indeed. Alleluia!

Thanks be to God!


Maundy Thursday Meditation

Final Instructions

John13:1-17, 31b-35

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Contagious laughter caught fire around the table

Memories of days past; the jokes and jibes

They danced across the table in terpsichorean splendor

The brothers banter; the fisherman’s stories

Joy was in this place

The meal filled them; lamb and roasted root

Wine and sweets to fill their too long empty bellies

The fire painting the wall in undulating shadows

Joy was in this place

He, though, was too quiet 

Something in the shadows made him look two times

His thirty three years

Heaviness weighed down his shoulders

Like the pack on a mule

His eyes distant, as if he were in a far different place

And as the laughter spread

He stood silently, grabbed a basin and a towel

He began to wash, wash the dirt stained, callous hardened, heat cracked feet of those who followed him

Was joy in this place?

As the dust from the feet began to coat his hands

They said to him, “stop,” but he would not. Could not.

The master was on his knees solely focused on the foot in his hand.

Inspecting every inch, the crags, the ingrown nails, the broken blisters

His hands served them love

They said “stop,” but he said this is how it is

This is how to love

Love one another

Take off the outer protection of power

Come down to the floor

See the foot in front of you 

Beautifully and wonderfully made

See the person in front of you 

Beautifully and wonderfully made

Regard them not as strangers but friends

Beautifully and wonderfully made.

This is how they will know you love me –

Love one another. 

Love one another when…

When neighbor is pitted against neighbor

When laws seek separation rather than unification

When your streets run with blood

When a neighbor is shot and killed, crucified

When your home has been turned upside down

When you are judged on the color of your skin and not the content of your character

When you are told who you are allowed to love

When…

Love one another

Amarse los unos a los otros

Just as I have loved you

Just as I have washed your feet

Just as I have brought life when there was death

Just as I have healed the sick, the blind, the lame.

Just as I have loved you

There is joy in this place

In these final words

In this last meal

During the end days

There is joy in this place

When love shines

When partisanship of political persuasion rise

When animus arises one against another

Let the love shine

Embrace the stranger

Hug the outcast

Love the unloveable

Hold on to the one who disagrees

Love one another

Love one another and the rest falls into place.

In the words of the King born in Atlanta; 

The King through Montgomery and Birmingham;

The King who made it across the river in Selma;

In the words of that King – fueled by the Prince of Peace:

“Now, we got to get this thing right. 

What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, 

and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. 

Power at its best, 

power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, 

and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. 

And this is what we must see as we move on.”

Love is the word made flesh.

Love is the one who kneels and washes the feet

Love is the one who sits and eats with those the world had thrown aside

Love is the one beaten, mocked, ridiculed, forgotten

Love is the one crucified

Crucified not for God, but for us

Crucified because the violence of the world could not understand 

pure love; gracious love; forgiving love; empower love;

Love: the word made flesh

Love is 

Rewriting the story

Correcting the misreading

Flipping the script

Love is 

the power that brings us closest to God

Closest to the divine spark that started it all

Love is poured out for all to see 

On the tree of Calvary

“Love one another, just as I have loved you.

They will know you are mine when you love one another.”


Sermon: Unraveled at the Crossroad

Unraveled at the Crossroad

Mark 15

(Prologue)

This day begins with the joy of Palm Sunday! The anticipatory zeal of the kingly entry into Jerusalem. The final push toward the glory of Easter. This day begin with the joy of the coming of the anointed king to restore order and take down the powers of the world.

This day ends, though, with the king being laid inside a rock hewn tomb. Killed a criminals death. Rejected and alone. This day ends with the fabric of reality becoming unraveled. 

As Jesus enters Jerusalem there is a tiny thread in the fabric of reality sticking out. He enters the city firmly aware of the cosmic shift that is about to occur, but the people are waving their palms – ready for the king to free them from the grip of Roman authority – if they only knew what freedom really meant.

Their cries of Hosanna – Lord, Save us – echo through the streets just as they did when the Maccabean’s delivered Jerusalem from the hands of Antichous Epiphanes – the last of the Greek overlords. They palms then, as they now hoped – would usher in a rebellion, and this new messiah would deliver them. Their eyes fixed on him, they waited for the rallying call – only when it came it was a cry from a cross and they were nowhere to be found. They throw their garments on the ground making way, unaware that one loose thread would change the world. Unaware of the unraveling at the crossroad.

(Scene 1: A worn garment)

When the disciples were told to get the colt for Jesus, they had no idea what was about to happen. He had been telling them for days that his life was about to end, and that he was about to undergo great suffering. He had told them about how they would have to pick up a cross to follow him, but they had no idea what any of this meant. They just went along with him, almost blind to the reality of which he spoke. 

Their aloofness was amplified when they witnessed the reception into Jerusalem. They had never seen anything like it. They had heard about the reception of Pilate when he arrived in the city, this had to be similar. People were throwing themselves at Jesus – he was the king come home. They watched as he went to the temple. Looked at it and then left the city for the night.

In that moment they were wrapped in a garment of awe. A garment of power they had never felt. They were with the new King of the Jews! Now was their time. Wrapped in this garment of awe, they were completely unaware of the loose thread that began to pull away.

They next day the went to the temple, that place where God lived behind the giant fabric veil in the Holy of Holies. They went with Jesus to pray and to study, but when their got there Jesus went nut. He tore apart tables and threw out the money changers. They watched as the temple authorities took notes. They heard Jesus claiming the temple for God and not humans. They did not see the thread in the Holy of Holies beginning to pull loose, they just knew that the garment of awe was unraveling.

Jesus came to the temple the next day and their world unraveled more as the authorities pulled threads out in their accusations of Jesus.

More threads were pulled when Jesus dared talk of destroying the temple and rebuilding it. More unraveling  at the talk of wars and rumors of wars. Threads ripped when they were told they would be persecuted.

The garment of awe was slowly being unwoven leaving them naked and afraid.

Jesus spoke of the coming of the Son of Humanity – the one who would bring about God’s final judgement and their warm garment became less so. He spoke of the necessity of staying awake for they would not know when the Son of Humanity would come and they shivered in the cold – no warmth to be found. 

They watched as his feet were anointed and he spoke of his own burial – and they shook naked and cold. 

Then as they heard him say one would betray and another deny – their world unraveled. It spun out of control as they watched his arrest and his trial. They saw him naked on the cross. Their world had come completely unraveled on the crossroad. The garment of awe they wore a few short days ago was gone and they were now naked and shivering – their world unraveled.

(Scene 2: Unraveled)

Our journey is not so unlike the disciples. We come to church ready to be wrapped in garment of awe. We know the great things Jesus as done. Many of us have seen first hand what happens when Jesus is present. We have seen loved ones healed; we have have been healed. WE have made or are slowly making our way through grief – accompanied by Jesus. We have felt the warmth of family or friends just when we have needed it. Like the disciples we have walked along the crossroad with Jesus and seen and heard amazing things – and we are wrapped in a garment of awe.

And then it happens, the unravelling begins. The elation of the moment gives way to the reality of the world around us. The garment of awe is unraveled one tread at a time.

Within in 48 hours this week 5 lost their lives to the lead of bullets in seven shooting incidents. Their deaths were barely a blip on the radar – murder has become so routine that it is just passingly mentioned on the news – a pull on the tread.

Our state has become a tinderbox of emotions as the specter of discrimination hovers like the shadow of Jim Crow. Laws passed that implicitly allow for discrimination cloaked in the garment of religious piety – threaten to obscure the image of God in one another. A tug at the thread.

Your friends are getting sick; growing old and more frail by the day; your children are involved in things that make you sick to your stomach; your rent is due and the money is gone; your table is bare and there are mouths to feed; your job sucks your soul; your world is unraveling one thread at a time. And that garment of awe that was so warm unravels leaving you naked and shivering. Fearful and wary. 

And in the cold we grab for whatever can keep us warm. Pills. The bottle. The comfort of power when we act out against people we love. 

We try to find something in things garments studded with deception and lies. We wrap our selves in self-centeredness and self loathing. Our world is unraveling and we cling to whatever we can that promises to keep us warm.

(Scene 3: The great unraveling)

And as the world is unraveling. As Jesus is tried and convicted. Crucified and mocked. Something is happening. Though the disciples world is unraveling and all they know seems to be disappearing – something is happening in the Holy of Holies. That loose thread is beginning to pull. That loose thread is beginning to tug at the fabric of reality.

As Jesus is on the cross another unraveling is happening – an unraveling that will mend all the torn garments of the world. The garments pulled apart by outside  forces and the ones ripped apart in grief. The garments left on the roadside for the coming of the king and garment  hung out to dry. There is an unraveling about to happen that will mend all the torn garments.

There on the cross as the noon day sun was swallowed by the clouds. And Jesus – alone and naked on the cross – his life unraveled – cries out totally alone, “MY GOD! MY GOD! WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” As Jesus lungs bellow for the cry of one totally unraveled – the words shoot through the clouds into the heavens and into the ear of God. They cry of the dying Jesus travels though the cosmos and into the throne room of God and in that cry. In that confession of utter abandonment. In that gasp something happens. With the final cry fro the carpenter from Galilee the fabric of reality becomes unraveled.

The thread in the temple tares and the veil between God and humanity rips apart from the top to the bottom. The separation between God and the world is forever destroyed. The fabric of separation is unraveled and in the cry of Jesus – the broken are restored. The torn are mended. The ripped are sewn together. In the unraveling of the veil there is not longer any things that separates our cries from God!

(Scene 4: Unraveled at the crossroad.)

The thread that comes form the unraveling of the veil between God and humanity is the very threat that begins to weave together the brokenness around us.

The thread of the veil weaves itself into the healing that we feel when the hand of a friends holds ours. 

The thread of the veil weaves itself into the peace we feel in the middle of the chaos.

The tread of the veil weaves itself into the anger we feel as innocent lives are lost daily. It is the thread that gives us strength to look at our neighbors not as threats but as children of God who need to be loved.

The thread of the veil that on one side touched God and on the other touched the world is the thread that will unite God’s children in the face of discrimination.

The veil between God and humanity was unraveled in the cry of Jesus on the cross. The fabric of reality was unraveled in on that cross in Jerusalem all those years of ago – the the divine thread continues to weave its way into healing and reconciliation.

Beloved friends – the world around us is unraveling, but because of the cross we can see God is present in the unraveling. God hears the cries of God’s people. God hears the lament and wailing – the cries of confusion. So when the news gets too much to bear; when the pain is to great; when the grief too deep and anger too real – remember that on the cross of calvary – the great unraveling occurred and in all of that – in all of that – there is no longer anything that can separate you from the love of God. For the veil is torn. 

When the world is unraveling around you – with the veil torn know that God is now with you – so nothing can be against you. On the cross God gave everything up for you – ripping apart all that would separate you. For on the cross – in the great unraveling – who will separate you from the love of Christ? Will hardship or distress? Persecution or famine? Nakedness or peril or sword? No – in all these things you are more than conquerers through the unraveled loved of God! Nothing- neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, no blood in the streets, nor unjust laws, nor piles of debt, nor hospital stays, nor tears, nor anything all of creation will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The veil is torn and the fabric of reality forever altered. The cross of Calvary. They cry of Jesus restores that which is unraveled. Makes new that which was old. Mends the broken and heals the hurting. The veil is torn and the fabric of reality is made new. 

Thanks be to God.


Open Letter to our Legislators

For those who don’t know, the Indiana House just passed out of committee a so-called Religious Freedom Act. Though it has only made it through committee and it has yet to go through the whole House – through which it is sure to pass – it has already gone through the State Senate and the Governor has promised to sign it. This legislation is all but a done deal. And so, I have been thinking and praying all day about how best to respond to this since I read the news.

The gist of this act is that it would allow businesses to refuse service to anyone they believe is acting against or contrary to their (the business owners) religious convictions. The lightening rod for this act was a bakery that refused to make a cake for a same-gendered wedding based on the owners convictions. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tim Wescor, says, “We need to be protected from the government interfering in our religious exercise.” And for me, this very statement is the problem with the legislation. It acts in the assumption that businesses are religious institutions. A Southern Baptist pastor says that this law is needed because he can not bend his beliefs.

The thing is no one is seeking to bend beliefs. What people are seeking is the ability to buy goods and services without the risk of being discriminated against. I find it fascinating that many of those in favor of this legislation are the same people who argue that we should let the free market fix everything – this legislation is an attempt to undermine the free-market – but that is another issue.

The reason I am against this legislation is not because I am a lefty liberal, but because I am a proud American Baptist and a Christian. This legislation, though guised in the cloak of religious liberty, in fact is the first string to be pulled out of our basic civil rights. We have yet to see how it will unravel, but by allowing this legislation to pass our state is starting to say it is ok to have businesses that cater to this group and not that group. The are beginning to put the signs up above the water fountains that say one is welcome and the other is not. This state is beginning the slippery slope of legalized discrimination.

This legislation is painted as an act that will protect religious freedom – as if God needs to be protected. This is the God who created the cosmos out of nothing. This is the God who created humans from stardust and dirt. This is the God who parted the Red Sea. This is the God who sat in a fiery furnace with three boys who refused the orders of the King. This is the God who put on human clothes and commanded us to Love God and love our neighbor. To treat the “outsider” as a beloved child of God. This the God who came to protect us from each other. This God does not need to be protected by a piece of legislation.

This act is an affront to the very message of God – to love neighbor. To act hospitably towards those who seek service. To be gracious to those we disagree with. To care for and love each other. This act elevates the privilege of one group above another. And worse it is the state allowing it – an affront to the separation of church and state.

This legislation is not about trying to protect ones faith. It is about saying one faith is held in higher esteem than another; more specifically it is saying that one interpretation of that faith is held in higher esteem.

The bottom line is this – God doesn’t need protected. God is perfectly capable of protecting God’s self. If you want to truly be a faithful business person and honor God perhaps it is best to follow Martin Luther’s advice from this little story:

Martin Luther was once approached by a man who enthusiastically announced that he’d recently become a Christian. Wanting desperately to serve the Lord, he asked Luther, “What should I do now?” As if to say, should he become a minister or perhaps a traveling evangelist. A monk, perhaps.

Luther asked him, “What is your work now?”

“I’m a shoe maker.”

Much to the cobbler’s surprise, Luther replied, “Then make a good shoe, and sell it at a fair price.”

You don’t need to discriminate against someone to be a good Christian. You don’t need to put little crosses or Bible verses on things. Just do what it is your are called to do – and do it the best you possibly can. That is showing your faith more strongly that refusing service to someone because you disagree with them – because you are doing what God has given you the gifts to do for someone other than yourself.

In the Peace of Christ,

Rev. Justin Thornburgh, Emerson Avenue Baptist Church


Sermon: Light at the Crossroad

Light at the Crossroad

John 3:14-21

Click here for audio.

This passage is probably the most famous passage of all Scripture. It is emblazoned on T-shirts. Bumper stickers. It is the first Bible Verse many of us memorized as kids. In fact we are reminded of by a silly guy in a rainbow wig every time there is a touchdown at a football game. John 3:16 is everywhere. Even those who have never stepped foot in a church probably know it. 

It has become the litmus test for many of God’s faithful. It has become a de-facto creed for many of us who are non-creedal people. It is the statement of faith many use to proclaim their devotion to God. 

John 3:16 has become the “way” to declare that you have been saved. I know it, I believed it, I am saved. But what I think has happened over the course of time is that this passage has become about a conditional God – a God that demands certain words. A God that demands that a sacrifice be paid, and only after that sacrifice are we considered worthy. That whosoever believes in Him. We make that phrase a condition of faith. It has been read as a passage about how much God loves us, and that is we only love him back then we get our reward. But I want us to consider, this morning, that this is not a passage so much about how much God loves us, but rather it is a story of what God’s love looks like. It is a story that takes the conditionality out of God, and shows us that God’s love is extravagant and life altering. 

Translated more literally this familiar text says:

This is the way God loved the world: with the result that he gave his only son, in order that whoever believes in the son should not suffer eternal death, but have eternal life now. 

And it goes on:

God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the word, but to save the world. 

This is what God’s love look like. 

It is Light at the crossroad.

****

Old Nicodemus’ world was falling apart around him. The Roman occupation of Jerusalem was starting to weave itself into every aspect of his life – against his will. He was a man who trul loved the Lord, sought to serve God in any way possible. He came to the Temple to be always in the presence of God. He studied the Ancient texts of the tradition. He sat on the steps and taught about Moses and the Prophets. He was there daily praying the Psalms to God. 

He was in the Temple to worship, but the occupation of Rome had dug its talons into the Temple leadership. He saw how they put their relationship with Rome above their relationship with God. He saw the short cuts and the cuts off the top of temple taxes. He watched as his beloved temple began to resemble more and more the place of worship Amos warned about. His world was falling apart.

Then, yesterday, this madman comes to the temple and begins knocking over the tables and releasing the animals meant for sacrifice. This man came to the temple yelling something about how it would would be torn down and in three days would rise again. Even though, the temple was not what it could be, it was Nicodemus’ places and now it has been threatened by this Galilean.

But something happened as he watched this. He heard the words of this madman. He heard about how there was something fundamentally new in his words – that there the walls they had built to protect God were unnecessary. That God is for all people and that the rules and dogmas they had enforced had become idols and walls to keep people from God. There was power in the madman’s words.

Old Nicodemus wanted to know more. He followed the man from the temple. He watched as the man and his friends walked through the city. But as night drew its shade around the city, the excitement of the day began to make itself known in his weary bones. His arthritic knees were not accustomed to all of this walking. His twitching hand kept him from steading himself, and outside the city walls he stat on a rock. In the darkness. On the road. He sat. 

And as he sat, the tears began to well in his old wrinkled eyes, following the course of the crows feet they began to fall on his hands. The tear began to pour. He followed this stranger thinking it would be something new, “I am a foolish old man,” he wept. His mind reeling he, longed for the warmth of his mat in the temple. He regretted his foolishness following the madman. He enveloped himself in the darkness. 

Fearful, he felt alone. Abandoned. His anger at Rome burning. His rancor at the leadership rising. His self-loathing engulfing. The dark wrapped its leathery wings around him like a chrysalis that from which a butterfly would never escape. The darkness surrounded him. It threatened to swallow him whole, and he wanted – he longed for a way out of the darkness.

He sat down on a bench like rock along the crossroad. And through his tears he heard a voice. A voice that said to him something that cracked the chrysalis of darkness, that pierced the shell of pain. That caused him to stop his weeping and look out. Look up.

****

This winter has been one of the darkest I can remember. I don’t necessarily mean dark as in the amount of sunlight, but rather in the news that we hear. I suppose I am not the only one here who has noticed that. In fact, I have had several people tell me they have stopped watching the news or reading the paper. When a story comes on NPR they turn off the radio – the news out there has gotten so bad – so dark – that it seems safer just to ignore it.

But we can’t ignore it. We can just try to sweep it under the rug – because it is happening to us. To those we know. To those we love. 

You watch helplessly as someone you love is nearing the end of her life. That though she has lived a long life, you know the end is near. You watch knowing that there is nothing we can do – death is the inevitability we all face – but why does if have to be so hard? With our broken and breaking hearts we helplessly watch as the dark tries to overtake the light.

The spiral of pain and hurt you have endured has produced a storm cloud of depression that wants to drown you. Thought of suicide shoot though your brain like lightening bolts. Shocking your nervous system into doing things that are against your best interest. The clouds of darkness overshadow any hope, any joy, any chance at happiness. The dark clouds cover any light that may try to come through.

Your home life is in shambles. You are doing the best you can to make ends meet, but there is never enough. You wake up in cold sweats wondering how the mortgage is going to get paid this month.

You struggle to get out of bed in the morning. The pain in your aching joints makes slumber the most appealing of choices.

You have lost the love of your life. The one who you knew better than anyone else and who knew you – words are not enough to name the grief you feel. The tears have dried up one day only to flow like a water over a dam the next. 

Anger burns at a sister being beating by addiction. Rage rises as government seems to prefer an amoral status quo that rewards those with means while neglecting the least among us. Fury boils your blood as yet another innocent life is taken because of our nations idolatry to guns. 

It goes on and on and on – the darkness overtakes the light of day. And as that darkness grows – it swallows us. It engulfs us and we become beholden to it. We become agents of darkness. We, trying to protect ourselves from it become self-centered. We become arrogant. We start worrying about what is best for us. How we can best get ahead. It all becomes about us and as it does – the darkness spirals around and around – turning us on ourselves – on each other. We begin to act out. We begin to do the things that are defeating us. We become agents of our own darkness…

And we sit on a rock. Tears welling up in our eyes. Hopeless. Alone. We sit on the crossroad. Between light and darkness. Hoping. Longing. Desiring for something better.

****

And through his tears he heard a voice. The voice of the madman. The voice that said to him something that cracked the chrysalis of darkness, that pierced the shell of pain. That caused him to stop his weeping and look out. Look up.

The voice came from Jesus. “This is how God loves the world: that God gave his only son  in order that whoever believes in the son should not suffer eternal death, but have eternal life now. 

God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the word, but to save the world.”

The voice comes in the middle of the night. Piercing the chrysalis of Nicodemus’ darkness. The voice of Jesus comes and says that the love of God is made known in the power of the cross. That like the bronze serpent that was lifted up and all the wandering Israelites need to do was look at it and they would be healed, so, too, Son of Humanity would be lifted up on the cross for the saving of the world. That lifted on the cross, when would be lifted from the dead and lifted to the right hand of the Father. That through the cross, the darkness would be forever banished.

God sent the Son into the world to save the world. To pierce the shell of darkness that is swallowing up the world. God sent the Son into the world that we might be saved.

That when that friend is nearing the end, you go – yes sad – but with the hope of the promise that she is a child of God. That you are a child of God. That the darkness of that night is no match for the light of the Cross. That on the cross was nailed your sorrow and grief, it was lifted up and transformed by the light of God’s love.

When the storm clouds of depression hit your, and the lightening shoots through your body. When the dark thoughts of suicide cover everything else – there is the cross. The sign of death transformed into the promise of new life. That there is hope even when it seems there is nothing else. There is the promise that in the cross there is life. There is the promise of a new life. Not with out pain. Not without sadness. But a new life that is with the One who knows suffering and pain. The one who knows humiliation and scorn. That you are not alone. 

The cross is the place of anxiety and dread. It is the place of worry and doubt. The cross is where those are lifted up. Where those feelings are given a place. Given a name and allowed to be said. On the cross is where they are changed into perseverance and calm – resourcefulness and hope. Lifted up on the cross they are given new meaning.

When the grief is to much, look to the cross. Look to the crucified Son of God – God’s beloved – and see the promise that is in the once crucified and now risen Son. Know that in your grief the grief of the Heavenly Parent, too, wept.

This is the world of a God who loves the world. Who shows the world how much he loves it by giving his Son to us. Not to judge. Not to condemn. Not to cause bitterness and division. Not to bring infighting and hated. But to save us. To Save you. To save me! 

That is the the work of God. That is the power of God. That is they light at the crossroad. That when we are engulfed in darkness – God’s very own came to bring light. Came to bring hope. Came to bring transformation and reconciliation. That in our darkness there a light that will not be overcome that will always be shining. That is covering us with outstretched hands. Without condition – God has done this – there is nothing we can do to earn it. It is our gift. It is our light. 

Look to the cross. High and lifted up. Look to the light. 

Thanks be to God!!!!!


Sermon: Power at the Crossroad

Power at the Crossroad

John 2:13-22

Click here for audio.

Fifty years ago yesterday, power stood at a crossroad. Hundreds of African-Americans were supposed to begin a peaceful march from Selma, AL to the capitol in Montgomery. Marching to protest the systematic lynching of their most basic right to cast a ballot, they prepared to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge – a bridge that was named in honor of a leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Power stood at a crossroad.

As the 600 people left Brown Chapel led by John Lewis and Hosea Walker, they walked in front of neighbors and friends. They, arm in arm, took those strides toward freedom. They marched through their home town headed to the steps of the state capital. But as they approached the steel dragon of a bridge, they came to a crossroad. Sheriff Jim Clark and his posse were stationed on the other side of the bridge – the other side of the Jordan. 

Barking his order through a megaphone that caused his voice to take on the timbre of machinery – he demanded they turn around and head back to town. And at the top of the bridge – the promised land in sight – the marchers stood a crossroad. There was power at the crossroad. The power of Jim Crow come face to face with the power of Liberating Love. 

Hesitating, breath bated, the power of Love moved forward. Determined to get to the promised land. But it was too much this time. Pharaoh Clark released his plagues. The dogs and horses, batons and tear gas began to fly. Faces were smashed. Bodies beaten. Blood and vomit; tears and urine filled the street. The powers of chaos and brutality tore and the frail human body. 

And in that instant – power stood at a the crossroad. Images from the incident at the Edmund Pettus Bridge interrupted a news program about Nazi atrocities. People who had never known the power of Jim Crow were disgusted. They saw the police they were supposed to trust attacking non-violent marchers. They watched in horror as those commissioned to protect and serve sent their beast along the crossroad attacking those who wanted their freedom. And in that instant – though to those on the bridge it seemed a defeat – love began to win. In that instant – Jesus came into the temple and began turning over the tables. Clearing the temple of those things that keep us away from God. In that instant – in those horrific images, the temple of Jim Crow was dealt a crippling blow and the cornerstone of the Temple of Christ’s Liberating Love was laid.

Dr. King arrived and put out the call for all clergy all over the country to come to Selma, and they did. Instead of the power of Pharaoh laying waste to the marchers – there at their crossroad they – through their tears and blood – heard Jesus calling to them. March on. The tables have been turned. March on. The temple of Love is now. There is power at the crossroad.

Jesus takes that which seems impossible and turns the tables. Jesus takes all that seeks to keep God’s people from being fully the people God intends and turns the tables. Jesus turns the tables on all those things that get in our way. That get in your way – that want to keep you from God.

Jesus went to the temple that day to prepare for the passover. The sight he encountered was not an unfamiliar sight, and according to John was an accepted practice. In the court of the gentiles before one would enter into the court of the men or the court of the women to offer their sacrifice – there were vendors. These vendors sold birds and lamb and cattle. To save families from having to bring their offerings from home – they could purchase them at the temple. As far as we know in the Gospel of John – there was nothing wrong with this practice. For the people, the Temple was the crossroad of the Divine and the World – and these animals were the toll to be on that road.

Jesus went to the temple that day to prepare for the passover, and zeal, passion, fire for God’s house overtook him. The walls of the massive edifice seemed to grow like weeds in the sun of the summer. Looking around he saw people consumed with right practice; money changers and priests obsessed with right rules; he saw the walls that divided the gentiles from the Jewish women and the walls from the women to the men and from the men to the priests and the priests from the Holy of Holies. He saw the walls keeping people from being in the very presence of God. Blocking the crossroad of the Divine and the world. And fire consumed him. Holy rage and he began overturn the systems in place that kept people from God. He turned over the tables promising to rebuild a new temple. A temple where the veil is torn and there is nothing that can separate the people from the power of God’s liberating love. There was power at this crossroad.

We have spent this entire Lenten season on the crossroad. We have come through the waters of the Jordan to be throw into the wilderness were the beasts test us and tempt us – only to have the voice of God carry us to safety. Calling us Beloved. 

For those of us here last week we stood at the crossroad. Ready to follow Jesus to the cross. Promised that though the road is rough – we go with Jesus.

And now in the confidence of the cross – called beloved, promised we go not alone but with Jesus himself – we are given a power at the crossroad. We stand at the door of the temple, and what do we see? Do we see a status quo that burdens people with guilt or do we see the temple of Liberating Love that has the tables turned and grants access to God to everyone? Do we stand at the top Edmund Pettus Bridge determined to cross to the other side, or do we turn away in fear. Are we bold enough to say I am God’s and nothing can keep me from God, or do we hid behind rules and good order trying to earn God’s love?

We have power at the crossroad.

That power is rooted int he foolishness of the cross. It is rooted int eh absurdity that we stand and fight with a God who was crucified – killed. The power we have is the power of Jesus who had the audacity to storm into the temple and turn over the tables. Tables that kept God’s people from fully experiencing God. 

Jesus at the temple is foreshadowing the day he is nailed to the cross. When his arms are stretched out on that beam and the nails pounded into his wrists, all of the walls that keep us from God come tumblin’ down. The veil is ripped. The bridge is crossed. The walls we build to keep God to ourselves fall like the walls of a sandcastle meeting the rising tide. The power of the cross is that it turns the tables on the entire world as we know it.

When you have had it drilled into your head that you are not good enough. That because of something that happened in your past, that you somehow have to earn God’s love. God’s Grace…Jesus turns over the tables. 

When abuse upon abuse is heaped upon you. When the words cut into your soul like a knife through linen. When the hand that you thought loved you, stings like a bee…Jesus is there turning over the tables. Telling you are are loved. You are special. That the pain you feel is all too real, but you are not alone. For there is nothing that can keep you from the love of God.

When you have been abused by the church – told that because you are gay or that you have had a child out of wedlock or that you are divorced – told that you are somehow not worthy to be in the church. Jesus turns the tables. Tears down the walls of arrogance and ego and brings you into the Holy of Holies.

When the walls of the world seem to be growing too fast: the racialized polices; the agist mentalities; the sexist ideologies; the classist methodologies; when they meet you like turns in a maze – Jesus overturns the tables and clears the path way. 

And when you come face to face with God. When the overturned tables make a way to the Holy of Holies you are given a power that allows you to stand with your arms raised in praise of the one who does nothing but fully love you for who your. Who fills you with Holy Fire. Who gives you power to turn over the tables and make clear the way of the Lord.

There is power at the crossroad. There is power on Pettus bridge. There is Power in the over turned tables. There is power in Emerson Avenue Baptist Church. Where we are the church on the corner that turns over the tables that would keep any away from the Liberating love of God. There is power in this this place when we look at each other as beloved community. When we carry each others burdens and pain. When we dance with joy and keen with sorrow. There is power when we say to all we meet we love you because God loves you. 

There is power on the crossroad. 

Those 600 people did not turn and run. No they trusted in the power of the overturned tables and they returned two days later and dropped to their knees in prayer. Several days later the mourn the murder of James Leeb, a white ally who came to march in solidarity. Then they came back 2 weeks later 8,000 strong and crossed the river toward the promised land. They marched to Montgomery, turning over the tables of Jim Crow. Demanding their humanity be acknowledged. The marched with the power of Jesus leading the way. 

Dr. King on the standing on the steps of the Capital in Montgomery said as much:

“Today I want to tell the city of Selma, today I want to say to the state of Alabama, today I want to say to the people of America and the nations of the world, that we are not about to turn around. We are on the move now. 

“Yes, we are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us. We are on the move now. The burning of our churches will not deter us. The bombing of our homes will not dissuade us. We are on the move now. The beating and killing of our clergymen and young people will not divert us. We are on the move now. The wanton release of their known murderers would not discourage us. We are on the move now. Like an idea whose time has come, not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. We are moving to the land of freedom.”

Beloved, the power of Jesus is on the crossroad. Turning over tables. Tearing down walls. The power of Jesus is the foolishness of the cross. The power of Jesus is the voice that calls you beloved. The power of Jesus is the promise you are not alone. The power of Jesus is the turned over tables – forever uniting us with the liberating love of God. 

Thanks be to God.


Sermon: Beasts at the Crossroad

Beasts at the Crossroad
Mark 1:9-15

There was a problem recording audio this week. I hope to have the audio up later this week.

*****

Today is the first Sunday of this journey called Lent. During these 40 days we will walk along the crossroad of life – acutely aware of our humanity. Reminded on Ash Wednesday of our mortality – from dust you have come and to dust you will return – these journey on the crossroad is one in which we search ourselves. We confront the beasts that test us; come face to face with the fact that the things we feel strongest about are our things not God’s; we confront our idols; our inner darkness faces the light of God; we take stock of our lives; we shout hosanna; we cry crucify. During these 40 days on the crossroad – we look in the mirrors of our lives and are shocked by the cracks and wrinkles – we see ourselves in the bright light of this season.

But Lent isn’t just about us; no, it is about the fact that as we walk on this crossroad journey we walk with Jesus. We walk with God in human clothes. Jesus walks each step of this journey with us. Jesus faces the beasts; Jesus shows us what are God’s things; Jesus smashes our idols; Jesus shines the light of God’s love; Jesus rides on a donkey toward his death; Jesus comes in contact with mortality; Jesus walks along this crossroad with us – for us. This Lenten journey is not about us, but about Jesus with us. It leads to that day when Jesus is nailed to the cross and on him is laid all of our human brokenness – all of our pain, all of our fear, all of our doubt, all of our questions, all our our self deception, all of our pride, all of our ego. On that day at the top of the crossroad, Jesus is nailed to the cross and that is what the Lenten journey is about – Jesus taking all of us onto the cross – for us, because of us, with us.

And beloved – it is with Jesus that we begin our Lenten journey. A journey through these forty days.

This journey begins as many do, a day full of delight and joy. A Galillean carpenter is in the crowd as John is preparing the way for God’s messiah. Baptizing many into this apocalyptic hope, the carpenter listens and in his belly a fire begins to stir. He follows John up and down the Jordan, watching as the gathered repent and turn around – coming out of the water as new people. The fire continues to burn. The events of his life until now begin to makes sense. The odd things that set him apart from his peers; the way his mother would coddle him – even when it was embarrassing. Perhaps, he was meant to follow John – to follow in his footsteps. Perhaps we was meant to proclaim repentance; the call to turn around. Perhaps he was meant to become a disciple of John.

As the fire burns, the carpenter stands at a crossroad. Does he go home, back to Nazareth and continue to make his living carving beautiful bowls and stunning table? Does he follow John? At the crossroad the fire burns, and he hears the words of the preacher on the banks of the Jordan, “The one who comes after me is more powerful than me; I can’t untie his sandals. I baptize with water; but he will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” The fire burns. And the carpenter fells his feet beginning to move without his even thinking about it. He finds himself at the banks of the Jordan face to face with his teacher.

John takes Jesus by his hard, cracked and calloused hand and leads him into the water. Saying words that he has said many times, John raise his hands in the priestly blessing; grabs the arms of the carpenter and dips him under the water.

Deaf to all sounds, Jesus under the water opens his eyes and see the fire burning; a holy fire that burns but does not consume; a fire that washes over him; and as he emerges out of the water inhaling that first breath of new life; he looks up and sees the heavens opening. The veil between heaven and earth is torn and that Holy Fire breaks through like a dove and lands on him. He is there breathing this new breath and a voice speaks to him, “Your are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Joy and delight fill his being. Euphoric, he feels like he can walk on water. In his joy he turns to John, about to speak when suddenly the joy and delight are replaced by dread and fear. He fells as though he is being thrown out of the waters – the waters of joy and delight. He is thrown into the wilderness. The barren wasteland that is the Galillean desert. The lushness of the riverside is taken over by the shrubs and skulls of the arid plain.

What is going on? Thrown into the wilderness after the joy of baptism, the beasts begin to meet Jesus at the crossroad. They follow him for days. He finds no food, and begins a fast of forty days. Hoping, praying, that this nightmare will end. How could this be happening he had just said yes to the Holy Fire. And the beasts follow close behind, nipping at his heels. They seemed to be handled by the Adversary – Satan himself.

The beasts would surround him day and night, testing him. Questions, doubts, fears, anger, hate, they bit at him, but could not devour. He began to question his own call, his own self-worth, his own life. He began to doubt John, doubt the Law, doubt even God. Fear ate at him, would the beasts eat him, how would he find food, when would this end. Anger at God, at John, at himself began to bear its rabid teeth. The beasts on the crossroad tested him at every turn.

He stood at a crossroad.

The beasts at the crossroad are there at every turn. We try to run and hide from them, but every where we turn we run into them. From the joy and delight we feel from the moment of baptism; from the sweet gathering of a beloved community, it all disappears as the beasts seem to be stalking us; hunting us. Their yellow eyes burning into us.

The beats are always there. Testing us.

Violence. Every time we turn on the TV or read the newspaper it is on the front page. ISIS beheading 21 Christians, killing fellow Muslims, instilling a reign of terror. It is everywhere. The beast goes for our jugular, trying to bleed us of hope. It’s claws swipe at you when family dysfunction swings it’s ugly fist. It snaps when a lover slaps you and then masks in in the disguise of, “it’s for your own good.” The beast of violence tests us, led on his hellish leash by the Satan himself, when the economy slaughterers you with non-living wages. When gangs rule the streets. When you can’t get the medical care you need when the beast takes a sweeping blow. The beasts on the cross road test us.

Discrimination raises its ugly head from its slumber of complacency lovers are denied benefits. When a child is denied healthcare because she has two moms. When the law says you can’t love the person you love.

Its sister Racism leaps from the shadows as innocents are gunned down in the streets and the response is black on black crime. When prisons are built in knowledge that some will never have the opportunity for anything other than the three hots and a cot the offer. When the color of your skin determines whether or not you get pulled over while driving in certain neighborhoods. The beasts at the crossroad are there testing us.

The beasts on the crossroad are there circling us. And as they circle, minds begin to reel. Minds begin to peel. We remember the joy of the call. The beginning of the new life. The excitement and the passion and it is being drained from us. From you. Like Jesus, you stand at a crossroad. You are surrounded by beasts. Tested. Tempted. It would be easier just to give up. To give in. To let the beasts begin their feast.

At the crossroad something begins to stir in Jesus. That fire that was there at the shore of the Jordan begins to rekindle. The discipline of the forty days begins to remind him that even as the beasts are gathering he is not alone. He has made it through these forty days and beings to see that in the doubt and in the questions, there were angels waiting on him. That in the fear and in the dread, there were angels waiting on him. That through these forty days he was never alone. “You are my son, the beloved. In you I am well pleased.” That voice gives strength to the food weary legs. And as the voice begins to echo in his head and the smoldering fire rekindles; he makes his move along the crossroad. He moves past the beasts, through the beasts, knowing they will always be there; he moves on and makes it through the wilderness and begins to pick up the mantle laid down by John. He begins to say the words that he was meant to say. The call he felt all those days ago is renewed and having been brought through the wilderness he stands at a new crossroad. And there he proclaims for the first time, “Repent, turn around and see the world with God’s eyes. Repent. For the Reign of God is near.”

The beasts at the crossroad have no power of the voice that calls him beloved. The beasts at the crossroad tremble at the very sound of that voice.The beasts at the crossroad cower and hide when they hear the voice. The voice that calls to you, “beloved.” The voice that says to you in the wilderness, on the cross you are my beloved.

There on the crossroad as the beasts keep circle in their predatory dance, you feel alone; abandoned. There on the crossroad as the beasts threaten their attack, you are afraid. There you feel as though you have lost everything; the joy and excitement of the first kiss of the divine have long gone and you are surrounded by the beasts…and then comes to you the voice. The voice you heard at that first kiss, the voice that was there when you first held your baby, the voice that was there when you made it through the grief of loosing a loved one; that voice that was there when you found a community of friends that take you in and love you for who you are…that is the voice of God crying out to you. It is the voice of God crying out, “Beloved. Though the beasts be at the crossroads, you are not alone. You don’t have to fight the fight by yourself. You are my beloved, in you I am well pleased.”

Dear Friends, the voice of God is crying out this Lenten season. It is crying out, “Beloved.” As we journey these forty days, as we make our way along the crossroad of life, there will be tests. There will be temptations. There will be attacks against us by the beasts, but know this…know this – Through your time in the wilderness, you are not alone. God will not leave you alone. God will not leave you for the beasts to devour, for you are God’s beloved.

You are God’s beloved.

You are God’s beloved.

Thanks be to God!


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