I’m not okay; you’re not okay”

Sermon on Mark 6:1-13 offered to the people of the Church of the Redeemer in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

In the first episode of Mad Men, AMC’s long-running drama about 1960s advertising executives, the protagonist makes the following observation about the nature of their work: “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? … It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is okay. You are okay.” There’s a profound irony to this statement, especially since the rest of the show is devoted to the various ways that the characters in the series are not okay. Indeed, everyone seems plagued by a deep sense of despair, even as they project to the world that everything is under control. This desire for reassurance did not originate on Madison Avenue. Human beings have always sought confirmation that whatever they are doing is acceptable.

This deeply human impulse is in the background of the reading we just heard from Mark’s gospel. This passage arguably describes one of the more relatable incidents in the life of Jesus. Returning home after leaving the nest and discovering that the people you left behind aren’t all that impressed with you is a rite of passage. Indeed, Jesus’ observation that “prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown” feels roughly equivalent to that well-worn bromide: “you can’t go home again.” Despite its innate familiarity, there is also something mystifying about this moment in the life of Jesus, especially in the way that Mark records it. The gospels according to Matthew and Luke both include versions of this incident. In Luke’s account, the crowd is initially impressed with Jesus, but turns on him when he suggests that Gentiles might be equal to Jews in the eyes of God. Matthew’s account is closer to the one we heard this morning, though the crowd’s main objection is that they don’t understand how Jesus could presume to speak with authority, since they know his family and where he came from. Mark, on the other hand, offers minimal explanation as to why the people who grew up with Jesus take offense at him. We’re told nothing about the substance or the form of what Jesus said on that sabbath day. Now, it could be that this is an oversight on the part of Mark’s gospel. Mark, after all, is economical with his words. Perhaps we’re meant to extrapolate from the other gospels and assume that Jesus quoted Isaiah 61 and announced that the Scripture had been fulfilled. I wonder, however, if there is a deeper and, frankly, a more unsettling reason Mark tells us so little about what Jesus said that day, one that is illustrated in the way that Jesus sends out the twelve immediately after the incident in Nazareth. When Jesus commissions the disciples, he doesn’t even offer vague instructions about what they should say. Instead, he spends most his time preparing them for the possibility, and in fact the likelihood, that they will be rebuffed: “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you,” he counsels, “as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” In other words, going out in the name of Jesus sets one up for rejection. There doesn’t seem to be any ideological reason for this. Mark tells us nothing about the political content of what Jesus said in that synagogue in Nazareth; the fact that Jesus spoke at all was enough for those closest to him to reject him. Just so we’re clear, the word we translate as “take offense” is about more than being offended. It denotes categorical separation; in fact, it is the same word Jesus uses when says that all will become deserters when he is handed over to be crucified. This unsettling passage is a reminder that the gospel is not always received with enthusiasm.

The reason for this, the reason that Jesus was rejected for simply opening his mouth, is that his message so often failed to conform to people’s expectations. People were looking to Jesus for reassurance, for a sense that their best efforts were good enough, for confirmation that they were okay. This isn’t the first or the last example of Jesus failing to meet these expectations. The gospels provide numerous examples of people trying to get Jesus to confirm that their way of looking at the world is the right one. Think of all the people who probe Jesus with questions in order to get him to betray his political biases. It probably goes without saying that these efforts were fruitless. No one successfully pinned Jesus down during his lifetime, but that hasn’t prevented us from trying to do so ever since. As an example, I’d point to a quotation that circulates on social media every so often. I’ve seen it in several forms, but the gist is something like this: “Jesus was a radical, nonviolent revolutionary who hung around with lepers, hookers, and crooks; was anti-wealth, anti-death penalty, anti-public prayer; but never mentioned abortion or birth control, never called the poor lazy, never asked a leper for a copay; and was a long-haired, brown-skinned, homeless, community-organizing, Middle Eastern Jew.” It’s pretty clear that whoever wrote this is portraying Jesus as an advocate for a particular worldview, one that presumably dovetails nicely with the author’s ideological assumptions. While there is nothing technically incorrect about this statement, it doesn’t offer the whole picture. As a colleague of mine observed, one could just as easily write, “Jesus was a rural born, pro-Israel nationalist who dined with rich people and government bureaucrats; told off-color jokes about foreigners; and said poverty was incurable. He advocated rigorous religious observance and personal responsibility. He never mentioned civil rights, feminism, or equal pay, and never advocated for government intervention in business or social issues.” There is also nothing incorrect about this statement.

What do we make of this discrepancy? Is Jesus a two-faced flip-flopper who will say anything to get ahead? Leaving aside the fact that Jesus’ ministry ended in crucifixion and death (which is about as far away from “getting ahead” as one can get), looking to Jesus for a political platform misses the point of his life and ministry. First of all, the obsession with absolute ideological consistency is a relatively recent phenomenon in the history of ideas. More significantly, the animating force behind the life and ministry of Jesus transcends ideology. Jesus was not terribly interested in the politics of his day, because he knew that politics come and go. Jesus was not a martyr for a cause, because he understood that people eventually lose interest in causes. Jesus’ purpose was to reveal that God’s will is to reconcile everyone to God. This simple, yet powerful mission is inherently disruptive, because it challenges our innate tribalism, our sense that it is God’s will for our team to win. The moment we think God is on our side is the moment that God will confound our expectations. Jesus is rejected at Nazareth because he refuses to allow the expectations of those around him to interrupt God’s mission of reconciliation. The mission of Jesus was not to tell us all that we are okay. The mission of Jesus was not to confirm our biases. The mission of Jesus is to transform the world through a knowledge that God’s love for creation transcends our narrow understanding of it.

Advertisements

Snow Day

SnowStreetLast week, the Church of the Redeemer was closed for a snow day.  Notwithstanding the limited accumulation (some clever souls dubbed the storm “The Fizzard of 2015”), there was something delightfully nostalgic about being “snowed in.”  The instant I discovered that our offices were closed, I was transported back to my childhood, to those wonderful moments when I looked out the window at a world blanketed in white and knew that the day was full of unanticipated possibility.

Of course, snow days can be slightly more complicated for adults.  They oblige us to reschedule meetings, ensure that our children are occupied, and deal with the anxiety of missing a day of work.  In spite of these these complications, we ought to view snow days with at least some of our childhood delight.  Snow days are unique opportunities to experience a true respite from our impossibly busy schedules.  We tend to fill other days off with chores and other obligations.  Since snow days are unanticipated, however, they are unencumbered by plans and expectations; they are opportunities to do things that we would otherwise not have time to do.  Snow days are a gift, and the appropriate response to a gift is gratitude.

Gifts often make us a little uncomfortable.  When we are given a gift, we tend to assume that we either do not deserve whatever we have received or that it was given out of a sense of obligation.  As Christians, however, we are called look at gifts in a different way.  Our faith affirms that God gives us the gift of his grace freely and without condition.  We are not meant to discern the reason God’s grace has been made known to us.  Rather, we are called to respond to this grace by gratefully acknowledging that our lives have been changed through what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

One of the ways we exercise this gratitude is through the practice of Sabbath.  Sabbath is an opportunity to remember that we are called to put our trust in the God who created and redeemed us.  Sabbath is a way of pausing in the midst of our busy schedules so that we can move from a place of anxiety to a place of peace.  Like a snow day, Sabbath is meant to be a gift, a chance to give thanks for the grace that God has so freely given us.

Little Things

Today’s meditation will probably be brief, as my wife and I are in the midst of celebrating her birthday.

bday lunchFor the most part, my wife has pretty limited expectations when it comes to celebrations; she never insists on extravagant gifts and is usually happy simply to spend time together when celebrating special events.  When it comes to her birthday, however, there are certain little things that must be done for the celebration to count.  For instance, her chair at the dining table must have a mylar birthday balloon affixed to it and her day must begin with her traditional (if unusual) April Fool’s Day Birthday Breakfast: dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets, mint chocolate chip ice cream, peas, and ketchup.  When we first started dating, the specificity of these expectations tended to stress me out a little bit; I had no idea what I would do, for instance, if I couldn’t nuggets that weren’t dino-shaped.  Over the years, however, I’ve found that I’ve grown to love the ritual of preparing for my wife’s birthday.  Taking the time to purchase ice cream and chicken nuggets from the grocery store is representative of the time we give to each other our marriage.  Setting that birthday table is a way of making it clear that we value the presence of each other in our lives.  Small acts like these become symbols of how grateful we are for each other and how devoted to one another we strive to be.

We often get caught up in the notion that we can only experience the presence and love of God in dramatic, life-changing acts of conversion.  We celebrate people like Paul or Augustine, individuals who dramatically changed the course of their lives after having an encounter with the living God.  But we must also recognize that God is present to us in the little things.  God is present to us when we make time in our days to pray and listen for God’s voice.  God is present to us when we gather around a table where bread and wine are carefully arranged and shared.  God is present to us when we strive to renew our faith lives during the season of Lent.  And like my wife’s birthday breakfast, we ought make these little things expected and regular parts of our lives, moments when we are intentionally attuned to the presence of God.  I pray that during the season of Lent, all of us will be graciously aware of those times that God is made known to us in the little things.

Endorsements

Sermon on Matthew 11:2-11 offered to the people of the Church of the Heavenly Rest in Abilene, TX.

A few weeks ago, the media was abuzz with news of corruption in Toronto, Canada.  It seems that Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, not only admitted to using crack cocaine in Toronto’s City Hall during “one of his drunken stupors,” but was also unrepentant and refused to entertain even the possibility of resigning.  When one watches some of the profanity-laden video of Mr. Ford vociferously defending himself on the floor of the City Council chamber, it’s easy to forget that this guy was elected to be the mayor of a city with 2.6 million residents.  But he was!  By 100,000 votes!

This led me to wonder how those people who supported Mr. Ford are feeling today.  I took a look at some of the editorials that endorsed Rob Ford’s candidacy back in 2010.  While none of them are terribly effusive, many of indicate that he was the right man for the job.  One newspaper noted that though some of Mr. Ford’s plans were unrealistic and not fully formed, at least he had a vision.  imgresThis editor somewhat prophetically concluded that “the risk in supporting Mr. Ford is what he might do as mayor,” but that at least he would do something.  Even more prescient was the evaluation of the National Post, which endorsed Mr. Ford by saying that “Toronto very much needs a proverbial bull in the china shop.”  I think the National Post got more than it bargained for.  Given what has happened in Toronto over the past month or so, I wonder whether these editorial boards wish they could take back their endorsement.  When the person they had identified as the cure to their city’s ills failed to live up to expectations, did these editors worry about whether people would ever take them seriously again?  Or did they simply retreat quietly to their offices and hope that the next candidate they endorsed would meet their expectations?

I think this dynamic of regret is at work in the words we hear from John the Baptist today.  Last week, we found John standing waist deep in the waters of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and admonishing his hearers to prepare the way of the Lord.  We heard John predict the coming of one more powerful than he, the one who will gather the wheat into his granary and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.  The John we heard from last week is the John of prophetic expectation, the great forerunner of the morn, the one heralding the advent of the Messiah.  Even though he is dressed in animal skins, lives in the desert, eats bugs, and can’t stop telling us what we’re doing wrong, I think that the John we heard from last week is the John we’re comfortable with.  Last week’s John is the self-assured baptizer, the one who is certain about the future, the one who is preparing us for the coming of God’s kingdom.

This week, however, we hear from an uncertain, self-doubting John.  We’ve fast-forwarded in Matthew’s gospel.  Jesus has begun his ministry: he’s given the Sermon on the Mount, called the disciples, healed the sick, exorcised demons, and sent out apostles to preach the good news.  Before all of that, however, John baptized Jesus in the Jordan.  John determined that Jesus was the one he had been preaching about, the one with the winnowing fork and the threshing floor, and so he gives Jesus his endorsement.  According to Matthew, this was the last time that Jesus and John had any contact.  Since then, a lot has changed for both men.  Juan_Fernández_de_Navarrete_-_St_John_the_Baptist_in_the_Prison_-_WGA16467Jesus has begun a ministry of teaching and healing throughout Judea; John is in prison.  Jesus has been eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners; John has been rotting in jail.  So, when John hears about all that Jesus has been doing (the company he’s been keeping, the activities he’s been engaging in, the parties he’s been attending), John’s reaction is to wonder if he endorsed the wrong guy.  There are some scholars who hypothesize that John was a member of the Essenes, a group of Jewish monks who lived in the wilderness and were anxiously awaiting a Messiah who would throw out the Roman oppressors and restore true worship to the Temple.  If this is accurate, then it should not be surprising to us that John might be disappointed with the person he endorsed as the Messiah.  After all, if you expect a Messiah who will overthrow the Romans, you would expect that person to spend his time raising an army of strong and devoted warriors and rallying people to his noble and glorious cause.  You wouldn’t expect that Messiah to spend all his time hanging out with sick people and teaching in an inscrutable and sometimes alienating way.  Furthermore, if you expect a Messiah who will restore true worship to the temple and cleanse it of all impurity, you would expect that person to avoid those considered ritually unclean.  You wouldn’t expect that Messiah to spend time with tax collectors and sinners.  Perhaps most poignantly, if you are expecting a Messiah who will vindicate the righteous, you wouldn’t expect that Messiah to let you rot in jail.

Given John’s unmet expectations of Jesus, it’s no surprise that John sends two of his disciples essentially to find out whether he had made a mistake.  The two disciples ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  “Are you the one we’ve been waiting for, the one we’ve been preparing for, the one we’ve been expecting, or are we still looking?”  The grammar of the question intrigues me, because it’s a little absurd to ask someone if he is the one who is to come.  It’s absurd to ask someone in the present if he is someone from the future.  “What do you mean, am I the one who is to come?  I’m here already!” There’s an element of this incredulity, this frustration in Jesus’ response: “Go and tell John what you see and hear: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”  In other words, “The kingdom of God has come near.  What exactly are you looking for?”

The contrast between the expectations of John and the reality of Jesus is illustrated when Jesus turns to the crowds and asks what they expected when they went to see John in the wilderness.  Matthew frames these questions in such a way that the answer is self-evident.  What did you go out to see: a reed shaken by the wind?  No!  Someone dressed in soft robes?  No!  A prophet?  Yeah, a prophet!  Jesus, in other words, tells the crowds that John met their expectations, that John’s prophetic witness made sense within the context of the way the world works.  But, Jesus goes on to explain that though John is a prophet mighty in word and deed, the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is.  Why is that?  There is no one who was better prepared for the coming of the Messiah than John the Baptist; surely he should have pride of place in God’s kingdom.  There is no one who did more to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah than John the Baptist; why would he be left out of the conversation?

It seems to me that even though John the Baptist was prepared, he was not ready for the coming of the Messiah.  While being ready and being prepared may seem synonymous, there is a crucial difference.  We prepare with a specific goal or situation in mind: students prepare for tests, musicians prepare for recitals, football teams prepare for  specific opponents.  On the other hand, readiness implies a state of being, one that is not contingent on a particular situation.  If we are truly ready, we are ready for anything.  John the Baptist had a very specific idea about who the Messiah was and what he was going to do; he was prepared for the coming of that Messiah.  As soon as his expectations were not met, however, John wondered whether he was supposed to wait for someone else.  John wasn’t ready for what the coming of the Messiah truly represented.

I suspect that many of us can sympathize with John’s desire to know what to expect.  We live in a world that is so full of uncertainty and instability that we cling desperately to our expectations, hoping against hope that they will be met.  This is particularly true in our faith journeys.  Danger-ExpectationsWe are much more inclined to prepare for a Messiah who can be pinned down, a Messiah who will meet our expectations every time.  In a brief Internet search of “faith” and “expectations” last night, I found numerous websites that encouraged people to “Ask in faith and expect an answer.”  Popular religious figures encourage their hearers to tell God exactly what they want and expect it.  Examples like these demonstrate our deep preoccupation with certainty, our desire for a God who meets our expectations.  But Advent calls us to be ready for a Messiah who will challenge our expectations and call us out of our complacency.  We are called to be ready to encounter the Messiah in the places where we least expect to find him.

Many of you know Roz Thomas.  For those of you who don’t, Mother Roz was the Associate Rector here at Heavenly Rest for a number of years and has more recently served as the vicar of Trinity Church in Albany.  Those of you who know Roz know that she has a unique ability to defy expectations.  Though she was a tiny woman, one of her first purchases after arriving in Texas was a large Ford pickup truck.  When she was on the lot buying the truck, she found that there was a drawer underneath the driver’s seat.  She asked the salesman what the drawer’s purpose was; he responded, “Well ma’am, that’s for your gun.”  Roz was only taken aback for a moment before she decided that she would store her prayer book/hymnal in the drawer.

One of the things I have appreciated most about Roz’s example is how much she cared for the people of this community.  Roz has told me stories about emerging from the church offices and seeing a crowd of people gathered around her truck, all of them looking for a few dollars, a kind word, or a prayer.  Roz is one of the people responsible for the existence of Hands On Outreach, our emergency assistance ministry.  Roz knew how to look for Jesus in unexpected places.  She understood that each time she came in contact with a person asking for help, she was encountering the Messiah.

Roz died earlier this week.  This is a shock to all of us.  People who had seen her only a few days ago said that she seemed to be in good health.  Roz’s death was unexpected and I can’t imagine that she was prepared for it.  But I suspect that she was ready.  I suspect that her ministry of seeking out Jesus in unexpected places led her to be ready for the coming of the Messiah who defies our expectations.

Are you ready for the coming of the Messiah?  Are you ready for a Messiah who is found among the lost, the hopeless, the poor, the sick, and unloved?  Are you ready for a Messiah who shows us that the path of love is one of sacrifice?  Are you ready for a Messiah who defies your expectations?

Expectations

On the third Monday of every April, the City of Boston commemorates the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord, the first official skirmishes of the Revolutionary War.  Known as Patriot’s Day, this holiday is a day when state offices and schools are closed and everyone has the day off.  Patriot’s Day, however, is not like other Monday holidays.  Under normal circumstances, one might try to get out of town for a three-day weekend, but everyone who lives in Boston seems to want to be in Boston for Patriot’s Day.  It’s the day of the Boston Marathon, it’s the one day each year that the Red Sox play in the morning, it’s a day when people celebrate the end of a long winter and rejoice at the coming of spring.  During a time of the year when we might expect college students to be on edge because of exams and the pressures of looking for jobs, Patriot’s Day defies those expectations and offers a welcome break, an opportunity to take part in a citywide celebration of history, athletics, and community.

I admit that I was feeling a little wistful as I drove to clergy conference in Amarillo this past Monday.  I thought of my friends and family in Boston, wondering how they were celebrating Patriot’s Day, wondering how they were taking advantage of this unexpected break in the calendar.  So I was shocked when I saw a text message from my sister-in-law that said, “In case you’re seeing footage of the explosion at the marathon, I just want you to know we’re home and okay.”  I tried calling her, but the network was overwhelmed.  I called my wife, who narrated what she saw on television: two bombs had gone off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, just steps away from Trinity Episcopal Church in Copley Square.  Three people were dead and scores of people were injured in the blast.  Hundreds of runners were separated from their families and supporters, uncertain what had happened.  An entire city was on edge, worried about the possibility of further attacks.  A day that is usually filled with joy and accomplishment had been blighted with grief and terror.  Two explosions brought untold carnage and shattered our expectations of a day generally filled with life.  It was a sad and scary day, a sad and scary week, a week in which we simply did not know what to expect next.

In our gospel reading for today, Jesus confounds the expectations of those listening to him.  One of the most important themes we find in John’s gospel is the question of identity.  Specifically, the religious authorities spend an extraordinary amount of effort trying to discover the identity of the Messiah, or the anointed one.  At the very beginning of the gospel, John the Baptist, the first charismatic religious leader who comes on the scene, is questioned by priests and Levites who ask him, “Who are you?”  John responds by saying, “I am not the Messiah.”  While it might seem that John evades the question, it demonstrates that the religious authorities were actively looking for the Messiah.  The religious authorities were looking for a spiritual leader who would drive out the Roman oppressors, punishing them and reestablishing home rule in Israel.  So when they encountered a charismatic guy who is attracting followers, their obvious question is, “Are you the guy we’ve been waiting for?”  When John says, “No” it is pretty clear that the priests and Levites are disappointed, because they ask him if he is Elijah or the prophet, one of the people who is going to herald the coming of the Messiah.  Once again, John disappoints them and tells them that he is the voice of the one crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord.  While the religious authorities want to give John a particular title, he confounds their expectations and instead points to what he has been doing, preparing the way of the Lord.

In today’s reading, the religious authorities are once again trying to discover the identity of the Messiah, and their expectations are once again confounded. This time, their questioning is far less subtle.  John tells us that they gather around Jesus and say, “How long will you keep us in suspense?  If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”  It’s important for us to pay attention to the context of Jesus’ encounter with these religious authorities.  John’s gospel tells us that this conversation takes place at the Festival of the Dedication.  judas-maccabeus-jewish-patriot-leaderNow this festival is a commemoration of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the foreign king Antiochus Epiphanes defiled it by sacrificing a pig on the altar in the holy of holies.  This festival is a celebration of Israel’s spiritual identity, recalls the victory of Israel over a foreign power, and celebrates the leadership of Judas Maccabeus, a spiritual leader who defeated and expelled an occupying enemy.  The Jewish people still celebrate this festival, though it is now known as Chanukah.  The Festival of the Dedication is a remembrance of the most Messiah-like person Israel has ever known, someone who expelled foreign rulers and reestablished home rule in Israel.  John wants us to have this in mind as the religious authorities question Jesus.  When they ask him to tell them plainly if he is the Messiah, they have a very specific Messiah in mind, one like Judas Maccabeus, a spiritually and militarily powerful leader who will kick the Roman occupiers out of Israel.  The response of Jesus, therefore, is completely unexpected.  The religious leaders ask Jesus if he is the Messiah, the one they’ve been waiting for, the one who will restore Israel to its former glory.  Jesus responds by saying, “I’ve already told you, and you do not believe!”  But here’s the thing: as of this moment in John’s gospel, Jesus has neither confirmed nor denied that he is the Messiah.  Instead, he tells the crowd that his works, the things that he has been doing testify to his identity. 

Good_ShepherdJesus is telling his hearers that their messianic expectations are misguided.  He refuses to identify himself as the Messiah because the crowds are expecting a Messiah who is a military leader, someone who will crush Israel’s enemies underfoot.  Jesus disabuses them of this notion through his reluctance to claim the title of Messiah.  At the same time, Jesus makes it very clear that he is not a military leader, but a shepherd, one who knows and lovingly calls his sheep by name, one who, in the words of the Psalmist, is with his sheep even as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death, one who pursues his sheep no matter how far they stray from the flock.  It’s a stark comparison that confounds the expectations of those listening to Jesus.  They are expecting a Messiah that will wield a sword and wreak vengeance on Israel’s enemies, but Jesus offers them a shepherd who gently holds a staff and guides the lost sheep home.  Jesus Christ confounds our expectations and calls us to move us from vengeance and retribution to acceptance and forgiveness.

There is no question that this has been a rough week.  On Monday, we bore witness to the marathon bombings in Boston.  On Wednesday, we watched in horror as a fertilizer plant exploded in West, Texas, killing at least 12 people and injuring scores of others.  And on Friday, a whole city was locked down and a whole country held its breath as authorities cornered and apprehended a 19 year-old boy who allegedly committed a heinous crime.  And yet, even in the midst of this terror and tragedy, we saw people confounding our expectations.  Runners in Boston who had already run 26 miles ran to nearby hospitals in order to give blood.  Volunteer firefighters in Texas entered an inferno with little regard for their own lives in order to rescue survivors and extinguish the flames.  And volunteers at the Boston marathon, upon hearing two explosions, did not cower in fear but ran toward the blasts to see what they could do to help.  In the midst of terror and tragedy, the citizens of Boston and of West, Texas confounded our expectations and exhibited unparalleled bravery and sacrifice.  Even as the events of the last week shook our equilibrium, our communities came together as one. 

As we deal with aftermath of these events, we are left with many questions.  What possessed these two brothers who had lived in this country for years to terrorize the city where they came of age?  Were safety concerns at the fertilizer plant ignored in the lead up to Wednesday’s explosion?  And of course, what do we do with people responsible for these acts?  We may be tempted to stand with the religious authorities of Jesus’ day, clamoring for vengeance and retribution, expecting a Messiah who wields a sword.  We may feel that the person responsible for the Boston bombings has forfeited his right to live.  This may be a reasonable expectation.  But just like those who exhibited such bravery and sacrifice this week, we are called to confound the world’s expectations.  We are called to follow the example of Jesus the Good Shepherd, who pursues the lost sheep, puts him on his shoulders, and carries him home, no matter how far he as strayed.  I’m not suggesting that we do not seek to bring the people responsible for these acts to justice, but our goal cannot be retribution.  We are called to put away our desire for vengeance, recognizing that violence begets violence, and realizing that the Prince of Peace and Good Shepherd calls us to forgive.  This is not easy, but we affirm that Jesus himself walks with us on this journey through the valley of the shadow of death, accompanying us even when we feel utterly alone and incapable of mercy.  Even in the midst of tragedy and terror, we are called to trust in the Good Shepherd who knows all of us by name, even those who have rejected his love.  Even in the midst of tragedy and terror, we are called to trust in a Messiah who defies our expectations.