The God who will be God

Sermon on Exodus 3:1-15 offered to the people of the Church of the Redeemer in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

I have to be honest. Before I had a child of my own, I never changed a diaper. It’s not that I actively avoided it; it’s just that if the opportunity ever presented itself, there were always people around who were far more eager to take advantage. Of course, that changed when a baby moved into my house full time. I’ll admit, I was intimidated by the process. To my mind, changing a diaper was a little like changing my own oil: I knew that it was a fairly straightforward process and that people do it every day, but I couldn’t imagine being one of those people. Naturally, I eventually overcame these misgivings and have changed many diapers more or less successfully. Nevertheless, though all it really required was a willingness to get a little dirty from time to time, those initial feelings of trepidation and anxiety were very, very real.

In our reading from Exodus this morning, we hear of a similar trepidation from Moses when he encounters God at Mount Horeb, though his was arguably more justified. The Exodus is the defining story of the Hebrew Bible. Its narrative of liberation and redemption shaped the way Israel understood itself and its relationship with God. The prophets recall the Exodus both to offer comfort to their people in exile and to challenge those who mistreat the downtrodden. The New Testament uses the imagery of the Exodus to describe our liberation from the bondage of sin. The Exodus, in other words, is a potent reminder that God offers freedom to those who are oppressed. There is, however, another reason that this story exists at the very heart of our faith, a reason that is beautifully illustrated by Moses’ encounter with God at Mount Horeb.

In many ways, Moses was an unlikely candidate to be the agent of God’s liberation. Though he was a Hebrew by birth, he grew up in the household of Pharaoh’s daughter. He lived a comfortable existence until one day, in a fit of righteous anger, he killed an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew slave. Moses fled into the land of Midian, leaving his cares behind and embracing a new life in a foreign land. He tried to forget everything he knew: the family he abandoned, the misery of his people in Egypt, and his own violent anger. He sequestered himself from society and tried to outrun his human frailty. It was in the midst of this self-imposed exile that Moses came upon the burning bush.

Moses_&_Bush_Icon_Sinai_c12th_centuryThis encounter is more than an a call story. Sure, it is the commencement of the greatest prophetic career in the Hebrew Bible. Moreover, it is the ultimate illustration of that oft-quoted truism that God does not call the qualified, but qualifies the called. God commissions Moses in spite of his inadequacies. Yet this story is less about Moses than it is about God. Moses, deeply aware of his failings, responds predictably to God’s commission: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Moses couldn’t imagine being the kind of person who could lead his people out of bondage. God’s call forces Moses to confront the human frailty he had so desperately tried to forget. Yet, God doesn’t dispute Moses’ human frailty. God doesn’t encourage Moses or tell him that liberating the oppressed isn’t all that hard. Instead, God responds with a powerful articulation of who God is: “I AM WHO I AM.” Another way to translate this is “I will be who I will be.” God is the one who will be God; God is is not hamstrung by expectations or beholden to the powers of the world. Moses has it exactly right when he questions his ability to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. It is not Moses, but God who will liberate God’s people. Moses acknowledges this on the far side of the Red Sea when he sings, “I will sing to the LORD, for the LORD has triumphed gloriously…The LORD is my strength and my might and has become my salvation.” The encounter between Moses and God at Mount Horeb is the ultimate expression of a truth at the very heart of our faith: we are to locate our trust, not in our own strength, not in our own power, but in the very being of God.

On this third Sunday in Lent, we are well into this season of penitence and renewal. We often think of Lent as a time of spiritual accomplishment. We heroically forego chocolate or doughnuts or strong drink for 40 days and 40 nights, proving our mettle and our worthiness of God’s favor. This perspective, however, misses the point of this holy season. On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of our mortal nature and and our utter inability to save ourselves, and then we are invited to put our trust in the grace and love. The disciplines and deprivations of this season remind us that we are dependent not on ourselves, but on the salvation that comes from God alone. The journey of Lent is about standing with Moses on that holy ground and recognizing our inadequacy, acknowledging that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves, and then turning and locating our trust with the God who will be God, the God in whom we live and move and have our being, the God who is the source of our life and salvation. The message of Lent is simple: we are frail, but God is God. In this political season, it is easy to pin all of our hopes for the future on individual candidates, frail human beings all. Moses’ encounter with God at Mount Horeb, however, reveals that no candidate, no policy, no campaign promise can save us: only the God who will be God can bring us into the fullness of life and joy.

Shortly after my daughter was born was born, my wife had a brief illness that landed her in the hospital overnight. Because I wanted to remain with her and we both wanted to have as much time with our newborn as possible, the baby stayed in the hospital room with us. As it turns out, hospital rooms are not an ideal place for a 10 day old to rest. Indeed, she refused to sleep for the duration of the night. At one point, my daughter was inconsolable and my wife was in excruciating pain. As I rocked the baby and patted my wife’s shoulder, I wept, because I realized there was nothing I could do. My love for these two people far outstripped my capacity to bring them comfort. I was utterly inadequate to the task. Though both eventually fell asleep, this moment was a potent and painful reminder that I have no power in myself to save myself or those closest to me. All I could do in that moment was put my trust in God. 

There are moments in our lives that we are confronted with our incapacity to save ourselves. It is in these moments that we are called to put our trust in the one who keeps us, both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls; to surrender ourselves to the one who liberates us from anxiety by offering a peace which surpasses all understanding; to remember the God who will be God.

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Certainties

Today is Tax Day.

imgresThough I generally take a moment in this paragraph to explain the provenance of what I have mentioned in the first sentence, I suspect the vast majority of those reading know exactly what I’m talking about.  April 15, the day that US Tax Returns are due, has the quality of Judgment Day.  For accountants, it is the finish line after a long marathon.  For the self-employed, it is the day that we have to send an inappropriately large check to Uncle Sam.  And for the procrastinators among us, it is a day of panic, stress, and promises that we will not wait this long next year.  Tax Day touches everyone in some way because taxes touch everyone in some way.  The ubiquity of sending money to the government supposedly led Benjamin Franklin to quip that the only certainties in life are death and taxes.

With Franklin’s words in mind, it occurs to me that Tax Day is appropriate way to wrap up our Lenten experience.  After all, we began this season of penitence and renewal with a reminder of our mortality.  Part of the purpose of Ash Wednesday is to remind us about the certainty of death.  And here in the waning days of Lent, the IRS reminds us that taxes are also inevitable.  This year, our Lenten journey is bracketed by Benjamin Franklin’s two certainties.

It’s easy to read this quotation in a fatalistic way: we are going to die, and we are going to pay taxes.  That’s all we can count on; everything else is ephemeral, like dust blowing in the wind.  But I think that these words about life’s inevitabilities are actually hopeful.  The only true certainties are death and taxes, but the rest of our lives are full of possibility.  We are not hamstrung by fate or destiny; we have the power to make choices and forge our own way in the world.

In certain strands of Christianity, one often hears people say things like “God has a plan for my life.”  This has always fascinated me, since so much of Christian theology is predicated on the notion that human beings have free will, that there is not a plan that we must follow slavishly, that we are responsible and accountable for our actions.  In fact, the story of Christ’s Passion indicates that Jesus himself exercised free will on his journey to the cross.  He had the choice to turn back, he had the choice to utter recriminations, he had the choice to reject his disciples, and yet he faithfully made the decision that would reconcile the world to God.  Jesus Christ was not subject to some plan that was beyond his control; he made the choice to walk to Calvary, trusting that God would be with him.  In the same way, we are called to recognize that we are not slaves to our circumstances; we can walk through our lives, make the best of our situations, and trust that God will be with us even when we feel like we are losing control.  While death and taxes may be inevitable, we are called to trust in the God of boundless possibility.

One Hit Wonder

The other day, “Who Let the Dogs Out” was on the radio.

220px-Baha_Men_-_Dogs_singleFor those of you who don’t remember, “Who Let the Dogs Out” (click at your own risk) was a song written by a Trinidadian group called the Baha Men that made it to the United States as part of the soundtrack for Rugrats in Paris: The Movie.  It was probably the most popular song of the summer of 2000; in fact, it won a Grammy for Best Dance Recording in 2001.  On one hand, this is somewhat understandable.  The song is catchy, danceable, and insidiously easy to remember.  On the other hand, it’s hard to understand why anyone enjoyed the song in the first place.  It has the dubious distinction of being third on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 20 most annoying songs, and it is frequently cited as an example of the fact that quality and popularity are not always one and the same.

The Baha Men are also an example of a common phenomenon in popular music: the one hit wonder.  Though the Trinidadian group released several other singles, none achieved the ubiquity or acclaim of their magnum opus.  For better or worse, this means that the Baha Men will forever be defined by a song that repeatedly asks a rhetorical question about the provenance of dogs.  I imagine that being a one hit wonder has to be frustrating.  Instead of being trusted for your talent and potential, you are known for an isolated moment in your career.  Even if you go on to grow and change, people define you in terms of something you did in the past.

Holy Week begins tomorrow.  As such it is appropriate for us to take stock of our Lenten journeys.  And when it comes to Lent (and other things), I suspect that many of us think we might be one hit wonders.  We assume that what we have done in the past will forever shape our futures.  If we have had a Lent that was particularly fruitful, for instance, we tend to have two responses.  We either assume that this is the best we can do and say that we will try to have the same experience next year  or we believe that there’s no way we could possibly experience the same level of fulfillment and regard this as the high water mark in our spiritual development.  We must recognize, however, that we are called to grow in our relationship with God.  When St. Paul tells us that we are called to walk in newness of life, we are meant to walk in a particular direction.  We’re meant to be aware that we are moving toward a deeper and fuller relationship with the God who created and redeemed us.  I pray that this Lent has been a time of spiritual growth for you, but more importantly, I pray that you will continue to grow in your awareness of God’s love even as this season of renewal comes to a close.  Above all, I pray that you will remember that in God’s eyes, you will never be a one hit wonder.

Limitless

imgresOne of the most striking elements of the West Texas landscape is the almost boundless sense of space.  Driving north to Lubbock or west to Odessa, it is easy to be overwhelmed by how far one can see, by how little gets in the way of one’s vision.  Where I come from, the only place you can see any distance is near the ocean (there are too many trees or hills in the way elsewhere); but in West Texas, you can see for miles and miles wherever you turn.  Of course, the boundlessness of the landscape allows West Texans to experience a wide variety of natural phenomena that others have a hard time imagining: spectacularly terrifying thunderstorms that you can see coming long before they arrive, towering dust storms that blot out the sun, and glorious sunrises and sunsets that seem to fill the entire world with uncreated light.  The landscape of West Texas is beautiful not because of what it features, but because it is not hemmed in by limits or boundaries.

There is a level at which the boundlessness of the landscape shapes the way that West Texans look at the world.  As a result of the fact that, in the words of one humorist, “West Texas is the world headquarters of nothing,” residents of this area are inclined to believe that you have to make your own way in this world, that no one is going to show you what steps you have to take to move forward.  And since the landscape of this region is not hemmed in by limits or boundaries, West Texans are inclined to believe that nearly anything is possible, that there are no limits on what we are capable of doing if we set our minds to it.  Both the landscape and ethos of West Texas are shaped by an abiding sense of limitlessness, a belief that the obstacles in front of us are temporary, a feeling that nearly anything is possible.

Over the past several weeks, we have heard stories from John’s gospel that involve Jesus encountering another person in a significant way.  At the beginning of Lent, Jesus had his nighttime conversation with Nicodemus.  The following week, Jesus met and had a flirtatious conversation with a Samaritan woman.  And last week, Jesus healed a blind man, who proceeded to have a protracted dispute with the religious authorities.  It occurs to me that the theme running through all of these stories (apart from being very long and making us stand for long periods of time) is that these encounters with Jesus lead people to reevaluate the limited way they look at the world.  Nicodemus wonders why Jesus and the Pharisees seem to interpret Scripture in such different ways; Jesus encourages Nicodemus to change the way he understands his relationship with God.  The Samaritan woman lives in light of the shameful identity given to her by her community; Jesus tells her that the only identity she should focus on is her status as a child of God.  The man born blind is told by the religious authorities that his condition means that he is sinful; by giving this man sight, Jesus affirms that categories like “righteous” and “sinful” are far too simple to characterize the abundant love of God.  In these encounters, Jesus moves his hearers from rigidity to openness, from shame to acceptance, from simplicity to complexity, from limits to possibility.

And the encounter described in today’s reading from John’s gospel is also meant to encourage us to reevaluate how we look at the world.  You know this story well, because it is easily one of the most dramatic in the New Testament.  It’s no wonder that this story is a favorite of those who have chronicled the life of Jesus on film.  In several movies, the raising of Lazarus is the climactic end of the second act, the moment that demonstrates how important and powerful this Jesus really is.  In many ways, the story of Lazarus is the pivotal moment in John’s gospel.  Beginning in chapter twelve, Jesus begins to prepare his disciples for his death.  He and his disciples are no longer out in public, but are in houses and upper rooms.  And though John tells us that the authorities have tried to stone Jesus a handful of times in the previous chapters, it is after the raising of Lazarus that the authorities actually begin planning to execute Jesus.  This leads us to ask: what is so important about the raising of Lazarus?  What is it that changes after Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb?  What is it about this event that makes the authorities decide that Jesus is too dangerous to live?

On one hand, the answers to these questions seem pretty obvious.  After all, Jesus raised someone from the dead and demonstrated how powerful he really is.  Perhaps a lot of people heard about Jesus’ ability to raise the dead and decided to become his followers.  The authorities, in other words, were afraid of Jesus just like they would be afraid of any charismatic leader who bucks the status quo.  On the other hand, this answer seems a little simplistic.  Roman authorities were pretty good at quashing popular movements that questioned their power.  The idea that they would have been particularly worried about a Jewish rabbi, even one who could magically raise the dead, is fairly unlikely. There is a deeper reason for the apprehension of the authorities, and it is tied to the transformation that Jesus effects among the mourners gathered around the tomb of Lazarus.

Caravaggio's "Raising of Lazarus"
Caravaggio’s “Raising of Lazarus”

There are three moments in this story that we should pay attention to.  First, even before Jesus arrives at Bethany, there is an interesting exchange between Jesus and his disciples.  The disciples remind their teacher that the last time he was in Judea, the people there tried to kill him.  The implication of the disciples is clear: “You probably shouldn’t go, because you might end up dead. Worse still, we might wind up dead!”  Nevertheless, Jesus ignores the disciples’ fears, ignores the prospect of death, and travels to Bethany to meet his friend.  The second moment we need to consider occurs when Jesus arrives.  John tells us that Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days; he is, in other words, good and dead.  The dead man’s sisters accost Jesus, telling him that if he had been there, their brother wouldn’t have died.  In the same way, the crowds say, “This guy opened the eyes of the blind; certainly he could have restored Lazarus back to health, but here we are, mourning his death.”  In response to all of this, John tells us that Jesus is greatly disturbed and begins to weep.  The crowds assume that he is weeping for his friend, but it is pretty clear that Jesus is weeping for the people around the tomb, the people who are completely paralyzed by the death of Lazarus.  Finally, notice that the climax of this story is not when Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb; rather, it is when Jesus tells the startled onlookers to “Unbind him, and let him go.”

These three moments in the story of Lazarus point to a meaning that goes beyond its surface. Sure, this is certainly a miraculous account of someone being raised from the dead, but there is far more to this story.  Throughout most of John’s account, the people surrounding Jesus are paralyzed by their fear of death: the disciples don’t want to go to Judea because they are afraid they might die, Mary and Martha tell Jesus that he could have prevented Lazarus from dying if he had just been there, and the crowds are lingering around the tomb even four days after Lazarus’ funeral.  For the most part, Jesus does not react to the fact that Lazarus has died; instead, he reacts to the fear of death exhibited by the people around him.  He goes to Bethany in spite of the disciples’ warning, he tells Martha to trust even in the face of uncertainty, and he weeps because the crowds are imprisoned by their fear of death.  And so, in the climactic moment of the story, Jesus tells the crowds around the tomb to unbind Lazarus, to free him from the prison of death, and by doing so he invites the people gathered around him to free themselves from fear, to let themselves be unbound from the specter of death.  In his encounter with Lazarus, Jesus moves those around him not from sorrow to happiness, not from despair to hope, not even from death to life, but from fear to fearlessness.

Ultimately, this is why the raising of Lazarus impels the authorities to execute Jesus.  As far as they’re concerned, the only unassailable power that tyrants have is the power to take people’s lives.  This is why the preferred method of execution in the Roman Empire was crucifixion: by executing dissidents in a public and humiliating way, the Roman occupiers instilled fear among those who might want to rebel.  But when Jesus comes along and liberates people from the fear of death, those in power are suddenly impotent; without the fear of death, tyrants have no power to control people.  By freeing people from their prisons of fear, Jesus instilled fear among the authorities of this world, demonstrating to them that their power is ultimately fleeting and is coming to an end.  By raising Lazarus from the dead and then going willingly to the cross, Jesus demonstrates to us that we have nothing to fear, that when we ground our lives in God, we are not enslaved to limits, but are empowered to embrace possibility.

There are many times in our lives that we are imprisoned by fear.  Sometimes, we are afraid to try new things because we’re worried that we might fail.  Sometimes, we are afraid to reach out to someone we’ve never met because we’re afraid we might be embarrassed.  Sometimes, we’re willing to arm ourselves behind locked doors because of some vague fear of the unknown.  But by raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus reveals to us that our lives are not shaped by success or failure.  By raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus invites us to risk ourselves and be in relationship with those who are different than we are.  By raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus shows us that we have nothing to fear.  In these final weeks of Lent, I encourage you to embrace this fearlessness, to turn away from perceived limits, and to acknowledge that anything is possible.

Balance

This morning, I bought a breakfast burrito from my favorite spot in Abilene.

imgresThose of you who live in the area are probably familiar with the wonder that is La Popular.  Indeed, this well-named local chain of hole-in-the-wall burrito shacks seems to be one of the more popular eateries in town.  If ever I mention to someone that I went to La Popular for breakfast, I almost always get a knowing smile, no matter who the person is.  And this is because La Popular’s appeal transcends a whole variety of boundaries.  Whenever I stop by, there are people from all walks of life waiting for burritos: blue collar and white collar workers, English speakers and Spanish speakers, civilians and military personnel.  A visit to La Popular is an opportunity to meet people of different backgrounds and celebrate the diversity of our community.

I think the main reason that La Popular’s appeal cuts across cultural boundaries is not for any existential reason, but rather because the burritos are really, really good.  The tortillas are some of the best I’ve ever had: soft and chewy with just the right levels of flavor.  The filling is always savory and delicious, and the little containers of salsa are so good that they should be illegal.  But the best aspect of La Popular’s burritos is how well constructed and balanced they are.  Each contains just the right amount of filling and is folded in such a way that your chorizo and egg (or whatever you ordered) almost never falls out of the tortilla and onto the floor.  It’s marvelous to watch the cooks assemble these burritos: they place spoons into the containers of the chorizo and egg mixture, pull out exactly the same amount every time, place the filling into the middle of the tortilla, and fold the tortilla with utter commitment and not a moment of hesitation.  The resulting burritos aren’t over- or under-stuffed; they are perfectly balanced and delicious.

We sometimes get caught up in the notion that our lives of faith don’t really count unless we are doing as much as we possibly can.  We sometimes feel obligated to attend every educational opportunity at church, to go to worship services three or four times a week, to make sure all of our reading is somehow devotional, and to listen only to sacred music.  There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, but we need to be careful that our faith lives do not become overstuffed.  We must be careful that our devotional practices serve a purpose, that they move us toward a more intimate relationship with God, and are not mere obligations destined to end up on the floor.  In other words, our spiritual lives should be balanced.  At the same time, it does not make any sense for us to engage in these balanced spiritual practices halfway.  Like the cooks at La Popular, we must engage our lives of faith with utter commitment and without hesitation.  As you use this Lenten season to examine your spiritual lives, I encourage you to discern those spiritual places where you might be both balanced and committed.

Just Another Game

There are few things I find more frustrating than the moments after a televised sporting event.

Of course, there is the  dejection I’ve experienced as I watch the people who beat my team celebrate.  There is the challenge of enduring the inane commentary from the play-by-play announcer and color commentator.  The most frustrating moment of the post-game experience, however, is the on-field or on-court interview with the player of the game.  It’s always the same: a person who is completely worn out is placed in front of a camera, reminded what a great game he or she had, and asked some obvious questions, inviting the regurgitation of some stock answers.  It is an exercise in pointlessness.  In fact, the only time in recent memory a post-game interview was remotely interesting, it stirred a controversy that lasted for weeks.  We are much more comfortable with the tedious and predictable script, with the questions and responses we all expect.

simple-post-game-interview-shows-the-biggest-difference-between-the-nba-and-college-basketballWe’ll see versions of this post-game interview a lot as March Madness continues over the next few weeks.  And when interviewers ask players what it’s like to play in the NCAA Tournament, one of the responses we’ll hear most frequently is, “We’re playing like it’s just another game.”  I’ve always found this particular response to be patently ridiculous.  After all, when was the last time these players played games that were broadcast on national television?  When was the last time every game they played could potentially end their season?  The notion that they could play like it’s just another game in such stressful circumstances seems unlikely to me.  But of course, this is because I’ve never played basketball (or any sport, for that matter) at the elite level.  This is a crucial distinction.  The men and women who are competing in the NCAA Tournament train on a daily basis; they practice until every move they make on the court is in their muscle memory.  They have the capacity to play stressful games like any other game because they have put in the hard work to be ready for any possibility that will come their way.  Every aspect of their game is grounded in all they have done to prepare.

It occurs to me that this is, ideally, how we should operate in our spiritual lives.  We are encouraged to pray on a daily basis, not because God will be mad if we don’t, not because it’s the only way God will do what we ask God to do, but because prayer is the equivalent of athletic training and practice.  Prayer is meant to help ground us in our relationship with God, to help us root our identity in the God who loves us.  When we are grounded in this way, when we put in the hard work of spiritual discipline, we will be better equipped to deal with challenges when they come our way.  Instead of being overwhelmed by stressful situations, we can rely on our spiritual practice and place our trust in the God whom we have come to know in our prayer lives.  Lent is a way of engaging this training and practice, an opportunity to begin rooting our identity in God so that we will be ready for whatever comes our way.

Busted

The second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament ended yesterday.

There is a thread that runs through the NCAA Tournament narrative every year.   It is the “Cinderella story”: the team that got into the tournament by the skin of its teeth, the team that no one has ever heard of, the team that no one saw coming.  Last year, the Cinderella team was Florida Gulf Coast University, a school that sounds like it was invented by the writer of a ’90s romantic comedy.  A few years ago, the team wearing the glass slipper was Butler, the first team from a “mid-major” conference to make the final four.  And of course, there is the tale of the charismatic Jim Valvano and his 1983 North Carolina State Wolfpack, a team with the stress-inducing penchant for winning games in their final seconds (earning them the nickname “The Cardiac Pack”).

UnknownThis year, the Big Dance seems to feature nothing but Cinderella stories.  Eleventh ranked Dayton won “the battle of Ohio” by defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes on the first day of the second round.  Harvard University, not typically known for its athletic prowess on the national stage, stunned everyone with a victory over fifth ranked Cincinnati.  And Mercer (which is in Macon, GA, in case you were wondering) issued an astonishing defeat to Coach K and mighty Duke Blue Devils.  In short, the first few days of the tournament have been fairly surprising.  For those of us who follow college basketball primarily for human interest purposes, this is a lot of fun; underdog stories are always more interesting.  For those who like to fill out their brackets and predict what is going to happen during the course of the tournament, these Cinderella stories can be frustrating.  Invariably, the success of these underdogs leads to “busted brackets,” meaning that there are people who spend the rest of the tournament sulking about their ruined predictions.

This is around the time in the season of Lent when people start to “cheat” on their Lenten disciplines.  Perhaps you gave up chocolate and accidentally had an after dinner mint at a restaurant.  Maybe you promised to call a friend every day during Lent and you’ve missed the last few days.  Perhaps you vowed to read a book of the Bible during the season but just haven’t found the time lately.  In situations like these, it’s easy to assume that your Lenten discipline is “busted” and you have to wait until next year.  But the beautiful thing about Lent is that there is no equivalent to a busted bracket in the Christian season of renewal.  We always have the opportunity to try again, to dust ourselves off, and reengage our relationship with God.  Ultimately, this helps us remember that the whole Christian life is shaped by this process of reengagement and repentance.  We will fail in our lives: we will pursue our own will instead of God’s, we will hurt our fellow human beings, we will turn to the power of sin and death.  The message of the gospel, however, is that our failures do not define us, that our sins cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  We must remember that we have been created and redeemed by a God who loves us deeply, and that God’s love can never be busted.