Monday, October 20, 2008

A: Proper 24 (19 October 2008)

Matthew 22:15-22

Isaiah 45:1-7

Now, you can’t count “supercalifragilisticexpealidocious,” because it’s an entirely made-up word. So, aside from that Walt Disney invention, what’s the longest word in the English language? Well, as far as I know—and this I learned in school—it’s “antidisestablishmentarianism.” What nobody bothered to tell me, however—perhaps, I suspect, because my teachers themselves didn’t know—what nobody bothered to tell me was what the word actually means.  Just what is antidisestablishmentarianism? In fact, this is a good thing for Anglican Christians to be curious about, because it directly concerns the Church of England, and is probably going to be an increasingly high profile issue in the coming years. It refers to the fact that the Church of England is the official state church in that country—or, another way of saying this is that it is “established.” There have always been those—and their number is now growing even within the established church—there have always been those who believe this ought not to be the case. They might be referred to as “disestablishmentarians,” because they advocate that the church be disestablished. So, if you oppose this point of view—that is, if you favor continuing the established position of the church with respect to the state in England—you are an “antidisestablishmentarian,” and the view you represent is antidisestablishmentarianism.

As Americans, of course, this is all quite academic, because the fact that the church was established in England, and in other European countries, was precisely what the founders had in mind when they included language in the first amendment of the U.S. constitution that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  The population of the British colonies in America was overwhelmingly Christian, but there were several different brand names of Christianity represented, and many of the original colonists had come to the New World specifically to escape their disadvantaged minority status of not being members of the officially established state church in whatever country they had come from. And so, Thomas Jefferson, in his commentary on the First Amendment, coined the phrase “wall of separation” between church and state. Even that phrase, however, is subject to a wide variety of interpretations, and it remains a source of conflict and controversy in the American political process.

But, even though it’s a very contemporary issue, it’s also a very ancient issue. The same tension we may experience between our identity as Christians and our identity as Americans, between what we owe God and what we owe our country, was also experienced, even more intensely, by Jews at the time of our Lord’s earthly ministry. As I said, the question was a good bit more acute for them, because they perceived the government of imperial Rome to be an unwelcome intruder in their land. Some were looking for a leader who would drive the Romans out, and restore the sovereignty of Israel. So, when some of Jesus’ antagonists were looking for a way to entrap him in his own words, they naturally reached for one of the hot issues of the day: “Tell us, then, what you think,” they said to Jesus. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”  Now, by posing the question this way, they hoped to impale him on the horns of a dilemma. If he were to say, “Yes, it is completely lawful to pay taxes to Caesar,” he would alienate himself from the majority of Jews who considered the Romans unwelcome guests in their country. Once the word got out, he would have lost all credibility even with some of his closest followers. But if Jesus were to answer, “No, it would be wrong for an Israelite to pay taxes to Caesar,” he would very quickly be branded a political trouble maker by the Roman authorities, and dealt with accordingly. It was a win-win proposition for the adversaries of Jesus. Whichever way he answered, he was bound to offend somebody, and his effectiveness would be neutralized.

As usual, however, they underestimated Jesus. Rather than allow himself to be impaled on the horns of an impossible dilemma, Jesus turns their own dilemma around and tosses it back at them. “Show me the money for the tax,” he tells them. So they bring him a coin, and he says, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”  Well, it was, of course, the emperor’s image on the coin, which was especially odious to pious Jews because of the commandment that forbids the making of graven images. Jesus’ point was that, despite this objection, Jews bought and sold things with Roman coins. They enjoyed the benefits of the Roman economy, the civil order provided by Roman administration, and a pretty good transportation infrastructure that allowed them to carry on commerce with areas as far apart as Britain and Persia.  Then Jesus says to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  What can we surmise, from what Jesus says, about the proper relationship between church and state, between citizenship in the United States and citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven, between our civic duties and our religious duties?

One possible approach to these questions is what, for lack of a better term, I’ll call the “God and country” solution—and to get the gist of what I’m talking about, you have to pronounce “Godandcountry” as if it were one word—to minimize any distinction between religious duty and civic duty, and to refuse to recognize potential conflicts between the two. This view has its roots in the European Middle Ages, when there was a seamless relationship between church and society: to be a citizen was to be a Christian, and to be a Christian was to be a citizen, and it would never have occurred to anybody to make a distinction between the two. The fact that the Church of England is established today represents a vestige of this arrangement. Now, you might think that, with our “wall of separation” between church and state, we are immune to this in America, but not so. The peculiarly American form of the “Godandcountry” solution is the rather outlandish—when you stop and think about it—the rather outlandish notion that America is somehow God’s new chosen nation, that we are somehow “special” in the eyes of God, that God has a particular soft spot in His heart for the U.S. of A. Not too many years ago, somebody declared a National Day of Prayer, and literature was circulated picturing an American flag right next to a quotation of II Chronicles 7:14:

If my people, who are called by my name, humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land.

Well, there’s certainly nothing wrong with corporate repentance and humility, and the Lord is certainly forgiving in nature, but an American National Day of Prayer was the wrong context in which to use this verse. The American people are not called by the name of God the way the ancient Israelites were, and God holds no affection for our land over any other.  Even more profoundly, though, the “Godandcountry” solution fails to make sufficiently clear the fact that “Christian” is a deeper identity than “American.” America is finite and temporary, and will someday be swept away into the trash heap of history. The Kingdom of Heaven, of which we are made citizens through baptism, is eternal and abiding. It is our true homeland, and deserves both our primary and our ultimate loyalty and affection.

Another approach to the “church and state” issue is what I will call the “Lutheran” solution. Now, don’t go telling all your Lutheran friends that I’m bad-mouthing Lutherans, and I wouldn’t even suggest that any of them actually hold this view, but Martin Luther and his companions did, so that’s what I’m calling it. In this “Lutheran” scheme of things, the Church does what the Church does, and the state does what the State does, and they otherwise leave one another alone. The church is instituted by God for the purpose of forming individual consciences and providing an ethical context for our private behavior.  The church’s vocation is to reveal the love and grace and mercy of God. The state is also instituted by God—in fact, just as divinely-instituted as the Church is—but for the purpose of regulating public behavior and protecting the public welfare. The vocation of the state is to reveal the wrath and justice of God, so it bears the power of the sword—that is, the right even to take human life if necessary for the accomplishment of its legitimate purposes. Both the church and the state are God’s appointed agents in their respective spheres, and should be appropriately respected. However, in my view, there’s a fatal flaw in this “Lutheran solution,” because it requires that the church and the state be on a separate but equal footing with respect to one another. It can therefore only work in a society where there is only one church as well as one state. It cannot work in the sort of pluralistic environment that we have in America, and so is of little relevance to us.

Yet another approach is what I might call the “Amish solution,” something we know a little bit about in Northern Indiana. It is not limited literally to the Amish, but they are certainly powerful examples of it. In the “Amish solution,” there is such a radical separation of church and state that Christians effectively withdraw from society and refuse as much as possible to participate in its institutions. Secular society—political, economic, social, and technological—secular society represents “the world,” and Christians, we are told repeatedly in scripture, are to avoid being caught up in the concerns of the world. In its favor, I would point out that the “Amish solution” recognizes one of the important implications of Jesus’ pronouncement about paying taxes to Caesar, which is that, while we indeed should give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, we should manifestly not give to Caesar anything  that actually belongs to God. However, while the “Amish solution” may technically comply with Jesus’ teaching, I’m afraid it misses the spirit of what he says.  The use of a Roman coin by those who lived in the Roman Empire—either voluntarily or against their will—the use of Roman coins was a sign of their participation in a socio-political infrastucture from which everyone benefited, even the Jews. Again, looking at the Amish, they are certainly more interdependent than they may care to admit with the outside world that they have tried so hard to shun. When I took a cross-country train trip some years ago, I saw a group of about a dozen Amish folks boarding an Amtrak train in Chicago. Once on board, of course, they kept to themselves, but they were on the same train along with the rest of us, and anything that affect that train affected them.

So…if it’s not the “Godandcountry” solution, if it’s not the “Lutheran” solution, if it’s not the “Amish” solution, then, how does a responsible and conscientious Christian balance the demands of citizenship and faith, of church and society, of the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of Heaven? How can we be both faithful Christians and patriotic Americans? Well, to answer this question, we need to look at an Old Testament passage that would otherwise be pretty obscure, except for the fact that we just read it. It’s a prophecy addressed to a king, but it’s not one of the kings of Israel or Judah, who would have known about the LORD and, presumably, cared about the will of the LORD. No, this prophecy is about Cyrus, the King of Persia, a land where the name of the LORD was neither known nor worshiped, and who probably cared not one whit about what the LORD thought of him. God says to Cyrus:

I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut asunder the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.  For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me.  I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I gird you, though you do not know me that men may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.  I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe, I am the LORD, who do all these things. 

The phrase that keeps getting repeated here is “though you do not know me.” Here’s a kingdom where the LORD enjoyed none of the privileges of being the established religion, either officially or unofficially. It’s not so much that he was despised, or even ignored. The people had simply never heard of Him. Yet, God is saying that He’s going to use Cyrus and the kingdom of Persia for the accomplishment of His purposes. What we can take from this is very simple, but very penetrating: the Kingdom of God includes the “kingdoms” of this world. And when I use the phrase “kingdoms of this world,” I’m talking about not only nation-states and other political entities, but anything else that might lay claim to our loyalty or affection. The Kingdom of God is neither identified with any of them, nor set alongside any of them on a “separate but equal” basis, nor completely divorced from them. The Kingdom of God includes all these other kingdoms, though it is vastly larger even than the sum total of them. Jesus is not advocating anything as simplistic as American-style “separation of church and state.”  What Jesus is saying is that “Caesar”—whoever Caesar is—Caesar is contingent, temporary, passing away. God alone is ultimate, comprehensive, enduring. In the end, we see that what “belongs to Caesar” ultimately belongs to God anyway. Caesar is, in effect, a tool in God’s hand. So even when we give to Caesar what seems to belong to him, we’re still giving to God. Christians are not to be “of” the world—the Amish have that part right—but we are nonetheless very much “in” the world. We can be patriotic Americans. We can love our country, and defend our country, so long as we realize that we have a higher loyalty, that we are “American” only for a brief while, but “Christian” forever. Blessed be God forever. Amen.

A: Proper 23 (12 October 2008)

Matthew 22:1-14

Psalm 23

Isaiah 25:1-9


In the movie An American President—when was it? from the early ‘90s, I think? it had Michael Douglas and Annette Benning—in this movie, a female lobbyist in Washington gets a phone call at home one evening. The caller identifies himself by name as the President of the United States. Of course, she assumes it’s a friend pulling a prank, and she hangs up on him with a sarcastic comment. But the President, who, in the movie, happens to be a widower, is not easily daunted.  He persists, and calls back, and wants her to be his date for a state dinner at the White House in just a couple of days. Once she satisfies herself that the voice at the other end of the line is really that of the President, she, of course, accepts the invitation.

But what do you wear to a state dinner at the White House? How should you behave, especially when your date is the President? How will the security guards at the White House know that they’re supposed to let you in? You don’t really know what to expect, and have to just take things as they come and be quick-witted.

You’re in a position similar to those characters in Jesus’ parable about the king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. All the arrangements had been made, and the party was ready to happen, but the VIP guests all sent their regrets at the last minute. The king wasn’t about to not have a proper wedding celebration for his son, so he sent his staff out with instructions to switch to the ‘B’ list, or even the ‘C’ list, if necessary—just make sure the banquet hall is filled.

So there were a bunch of people in the kingdom who, with virtually no warning, all of a sudden had a very pressing social engagement that required their attendance. They asked themselves questions about proper attire and proper behavior and what to expect. After all, they had never been to the king’s house for a wedding banquet before.

The fundamental question of biblical interpretation, of course, is “What did this parable mean to the original readers?”  To the first readers of Matthew’s gospel, living roughly thirty to forty years after Jesus last walked on the earth, the symbolism in this parable would have been crystal clear. The king is God. The king’s son is Jesus. The names on the original guest list—those who sent in their last-minute regrets—represent the Jewish people, the nation of Israel—and the last-minute guests are all the other nations, the Gentiles, who now, through Christ, have access to Israel’s God.

If you are keenly observant, you will note that this is the third week in a row in which the theme of the gospel reading has been the reconfiguration of the covenant that God has with humankind. Instead of the nation of Israel—that is, the Jewish people, being the primary agent of God’s work in the world, that primary agent is now the Church, which potentially includes Israel, but which also potentially includes everyone else in the world as well. And because of that, we have always seen ourselves, in the Church, as heirs of the stories and promises and prophecies of the Old Testament. So these original early Christian readers of Matthew’s gospel would also have made a connection between the banquet in this parable and another banquet scene described in the twenty-fifth chapter of the book of Isaiah, a passage which, conveniently, is appointed to be read at today’s liturgy:

On this mountain, the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich foods filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.

Among those who study the scriptures, this is known as the “messianic banquet”, because it describes conditions at the end of history, when the work of the Messiah, the anointed one, the Christ, will have been brought to completion. In Chapter Nineteen of the book of Revelation, this scene is referred to as the “Marriage Supper of the Lamb”—the Lamb being Christ, who is the groom, and the bride being the Church.

Now, speaking personally, however it’s described, this is one banquet I don’t want to miss. And I give thanks that, as a member of the Church, I am among those who have received a late-in-the-day invitation to the festivities. Yet, I am at the same time in grief because I know that there are so many who have also received the same special invitation, but who are not aware of what a great honor it is, and what a great party it will be! There are those who approach the messianic banquet, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, as an object of curiosity. “Yes, God, since you’ve invited me, and I don’t yet have anything on my calendar for the first few thousand years of eternity, I’ll come. I’ll be there. I’ll show up. But I hope you won’t mind if I’m a little late, and I hope it’s a come-as-you-are party; I don’t want to have to wear anything special. And don’t bother actually setting a place for me; I’ll probably just graze at the hors d’oeuvre table.  And I don’t think I’ll actually dance at the reception; I’ll probably just hang our around the door. Actually, I’m mostly just interested in seeing what your house looks like. No offense.”

Every Sunday and holy day, we have available to us a foretaste of the messianic banquet, a sneak preview of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. It’s called the Holy Eucharist, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion. What an incredibly wonderful gift! Yet, how many there are who approach it out of bored curiosity. They don’t really let themselves get into it. They remain detached, observing on the margins, hanging out by the table and never sitting down to the meal or entering the dance floor. They don’t want to see themselves as particularly religious, so they sing half-heartedly, if at all, let others make the responses in the liturgy, and don’t bother with personal gestures like making the sign of the cross or bowing the head at the name of Jesus. It’s as if they have a spiritual eating disorder. They’re starving spiritually, but all they can think about is avoiding being “religious”, so they don’t take any nourishment. Spiritual food is all around them in abundance, but it goes uneaten. They enjoy watching others eat! They wouldn’t want the Church to go away. They’re glad that others sit down and have a full spiritual meal at the banquet, but the thought of doing so themselves is terrifying. The anorexic has a distorted image of her own body and its relationship to food. A spiritual anorexic has a distorted image of his or her own soul, and how religious practice relates to having peace with God.

Or maybe you find yourself at the banquet, not out of curiosity, but just because you’ve been swept along by the tide. You got the phone call saying “Come to the party”, and you don’t remember every really saying Yes, but you never said No either, and everyone around you was going, so here you are. Have you ever known anybody who gets into a line of work in his or her twenties—not as a result of a great deal of thought, but just because it was an opportunity that became available, because it seemed like the right thing to do at the time—and then twenty or thirty years later wonders, “What am I doing, I don’t even like this job, but I’m trapped because I don’t know how to do anything else.”?  It’s really a sad situation. Might that be a fair description of your relationship with Christ and his church? You don’t really know why you’re here, but you’re here, and it’s a habit, and you don’t know how to do anything else? My friends, that’s better than not being here at all, but my heart goes out to you, because even though you’re at the party, you’re not having any fun. You’re there, but it’s not really a party for you. You’re not eating, you’re not dancing, you’re not drinking, you’re not socializing, you’re just there. What a drag! If you’re at the messianic banquet out of bored curiosity, if you’re at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb out of sheer unconsidered habit, if you are holding yourself back from the full commitment of your heart and soul and mind and will and abilities and time and wealth to the Lord Jesus Christ, then there’s a word to describe you, and it’s “party pooper!”

Now, lest you think that characterization to be a trifle harsh, let me go on to say that that’s the kinder and gentler way of putting it. The plain, unvarnished, non-sugar coated version is spoken by the king in our Lord’s parable. When he sees that one of the guests at the banquet is not properly clothed, he orders his servants to take that person and bind him hand and foot and cast him into outer darkness where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Now, we don’t know what this poor fellow was wearing, or what he should have been wearing. The point is, the fact that he was wearing the wrong thing means that he wasn’t present at the banquet for the purpose of participating in it and celebrating what the banquet was celebrating. When we’re at the party, but we’re not there to “party”, then it’s like we’re at the wedding feast without the wedding garment. We are demonstrating our ignorance of the true meaning and significance of the occasion, and we are insulting our host! When we attend the eucharistic feast, but our intention is to hang out by the door nibbling on stuffed olives, we are demonstrating that we are clueless as to the meaning and significance of the Eucharist.

The reason we’re celebrating—I’ll give you a hint—the reason we’re celebrating has something to do with the redemption of the entire created universe, including your individual soul and mine, from the power of evil and death. It has something to do with the good guys in the white hats untying the widow from the railroad tracks just before the train arrives. It has something to do with finding meaning in suffering and coming to some resolution on the mystery of bad things happening to good people. This is, as I said, just a hint. But it is certainly reason enough to celebrate, ample justification for throwing a party. So, our invitation to the messianic banquet, our summons to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, assumes that our reason for accepting the call is that we are ready to celebrate. Please come, we are told, but realize what you’re coming to. Plan on singing, plan on dancing, plan on eating—a lot—and plan on having a bit to drink, not just nibbling and watching. There’s no need for wallflowers at this dance. And, most importantly, plan on not only seeing the king’s house, but on meeting the King. He’ll be at the party, and he wants you to get to know him. In the end, he is himself the reason for the celebration. Amen. 

A: Proper 21 (28 September 2008)

Matthew 21:28 32

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

It’s now been 22 years since I purchased my first computer. The one I use most of the time now, a laptop, is the seventh computer I’ve owned, and I’ve been involved in the purchase of three others in two different church offices.

My first computer—which was an original IBM PC; you know, the kind with no hard drive, and two 5.25” floppy disk drives—came with very little by way of software: One copy of WordPerfect 2.0, to be precise. Every one since then has come loaded with more and more goodies. And pretty much from the beginning, it’s been taken for granted that a new computer includes some version of the game of solitaire. You need to be able to play solitaire on your computer, or something just isn’t quite right.

One of the features of computer solitaire that makes it a lot more fun, in my opinion, than using actual playing cards, is the feature called “Replay.” As you’re playing out a particular hand, you’ve got to make certain choices along the way.

They may or may not be the right choices—even with a hand that is a potential winner, you can still lose. So when, sure enough, you play to a dead end, you can click “Replay,” and one second later, the original hand is laid out for you, just as it was before. So you can do it again, only this time make different choices, take a different fork in the road. On many occasions, I have played a hand unsuccessfully three or four times, and then finally coaxed a victory out of it.

The motivation behind all this is the knowledge—or at least the suspicion—that there is a winning path, there is a route to victory; we simply haven’t found it yet. And what a wonderful feeling it is to be able to start over, to keep trying until we get it right.

If only the rest of life were as kind and forgiving as computer solitaire. Alas, it is not. We make mistakes, we make wrong choices, we face a fork in the road and it often seems that the best we can do is toss a coin, and the odds are still that we’ll miss the path to a winning hand. We look back on education and career decisions that we’ve made, and wish we’d chosen otherwise. We look back on friendships and romantic relationships and marriages that just didn’t go the way we had hoped they would, and we wish we could have this word or that deed back to do over again. But there is no “Replay” button to click on. We look back on addiction and mental illness and the destructive behavior that flows from them, and we wish we knew then what we know now, but it’s too late. What’s done is done—water under the bridge, over the dam, and out to sea.

Many of us, particularly the sorts of people who would find themselves in a place like this on a day like this doing what we’re doing—many of us have a gnawing sense that a lot of the choices we have made have been displeasing to God, and we’re ashamed. But we don’t want to think too much about it, and we surely don’t want to talk about it, because . . . what’s done is done. We can’t take it back. We can’t do it over again. It’s too late. In something we have said or done, or not said or not done, we have said “No” to God, and it feels well past the time when we can change our mind and say “Yes.” It would seem dishonest, hypocritical, or, at best, presumptuous. If God knows what he’s doing—that is, if he behaves the way we would behave in the same circumstances, he has closed the window of opportunity for us to change our mind, allowing our most recent behavior to speak for itself, and be, in fact, our final answer, our last word. We’re like the batter who at first decides to swing at a pitch, but then wants not to, so he checks his swing. If the umpires decide he has not reached the point of flexing his wrists, they will give him the benefit of the doubt. But if he broke his wrists, he is considered to have swung, and it’s a strike, and there’s no appeal. It’s easy for us to envision God as the home plate umpire who has just called “Steee-rike!” . . . and that’s that. 

Or we’re like the bargain hunter who clearly sees the sign on the cash register, “All sales final,” and hands over her credit card, even as she has second thoughts about the wisdom of her purchase. Once the card has been swiped through the machine, however, the deed is done. She has made a purchase. Repentance is meaningless and regret is fruitless. She may as well just enjoy what she’s bought and try and move beyond the guilt.

Indeed, repentance does sometimes seem meaningless, and regret fruitless, and because we feel like it’s too late to rescind our negative RSVP to God, we look for ways to rationalize the stupid decision we’ve made, just to relieve ourselves of the crushing burden of guilt. It’s OK. It’s all right. Sure, we’ve displeased God, but he’ll just have to find a way to deal with it. What’s done is done.

So we persist in ways of living that are destructive to our souls—either slowly or quickly. We chase furtively but vainly after false gods like career success, social popularity, attainment of wealth, health, beauty, or sexual fulfillment, self-improvement, and even “spirituality” of a sort. But we ignore the true and living God, the lover of our souls, the one who alone fills the void at the core of our being, the one who alone is our health and our salvation.

Into the darkness of this pit of fatalistic despair shines the light of the Good News in the form of a simple and abundantly clear parable told by our Lord Jesus as recorded for us in the twenty-first chapter of St Matthew’s gospel. A man has two sons, and he needs their help. The first one says “Yes, father, I will certainly do what you ask. Consider it a done deal.” But the day goes by, and the first son’s words are never translated into action. Maybe he was lying to his father from the outset. Maybe he genuinely intended to keep his word, but just never got around to it. Who knows? The important thing is that he did not fulfill his commitment.

The second son, by contrast, immediately told his father, “No way, Dad. Not gonna do it. Better find somebody else.” Now we don’t know, of course, whether Son #2 was just being willfully ornery, or whether he had a genuine conflict of obligations that would have prevented him from honoring his father’s request. The relevant fact is that he changed his mind. He thought better of his initial decision and checked his swing, he pulled the credit card back from the sales clerk’s hand. By his deeds, he changed his words. He changed his “No” into a “Yes.”

And his action is an icon to all of us, for all time, of the fact that we always have “space” in which to repent. As far as God is concerned, there is a “Replay” button in the game of life. He will not accept “No” as our final answer. So, as many words as we may have spoken that mean “No,” as many deeds as we have done that add up to “No,” God is always ready and eager to hear our “Yes.” As the Lord says in the direct, un-sugar coated words of the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel,

“...when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is lawful and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live...”.

God places a premium on personal responsibility and personal integrity. He is much less concerned about what we said yesterday than he is about what we do today. If we can let this simple fact sink in to our hearts, it can change our lives. Do you see the potential for liberation that is available to us here? God wants to set us free from the burden of regret. Sure, maybe we broke the wrist, but we can have the pitch back. Yes, the credit card has been swiped, but that “All sales final” sign suddenly disappears. We can have the hand of solitaire back at the beginning, and this time play our cards right.

It is never too late to say “Yes” to God, and the way we say that is by doing it. We know what God wants. We know what behavior will please him. And even if we originally said “No,” it’s still not too late. We can perform the work that he calls us to do. We can do “Yes.” God’s magnanimous grace is here to help us, if we will but receive it. Amen.