Notes-N-News

Good Afternoon!

++  Newsletter items are due this week. I will be out of town the last week of September, so please send info soon/now!

++  Women’s retreat sign-up sheet is in the narthex, as well as roommate request, and carpooling info.

++  Men’s Breakfast is Sat 20th at the Charburger.

++  Food on the 4th is Sept 28th. Non-perishable items.

++  A gathering to plan a mid-week study group is Thurs Oct 2nd at 6pm at Roy  & Pat Pettit’s home. They will serve a main dish, and others can bring a potluck item.

++  Adult Sunday Study begins Sunday Oct 5th at 8am in the fellowship hall. Led by Pastor David.

++  Because of the change in school starting times, I will be in the office at 9am Mondays and 8:30 Tues, Wed, and Thurs.

Blessings!

Jennifer Fowler
Office Manager

Sermon: Not Unto Ourselves Alone

Sunday 14 September 2014
The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 24A

Romans 14:1-12

Melissa and I both graduated from Willamette University. And Willamette has a motto that was important enough to the life of the school that I still remember it: non nobis solum nati sumus, not unto ourselves alone are we born. The idea is that anything we might have or anything we might be is not supposed to be just for our own benefit. We have a larger responsibility. The things that we are and the things that we have are supposed to be for the benefit of others. We are supposed to live for the benefit of our neighbors. According to the motto, this responsibility is so great, so thoroughgoing, that it begins at the moment of our birth. Not unto ourselves alone are we born.


Paul is writing to a group of churches in Rome that he has not visited. He is planning a visit to Rome, and as a way of introducing himself and preparing the way, he writes this letter. It appears, though, that he has already heard something about them, something about the issues that the churches are facing in Rome, something about the squabbles and arguments that they are having. All groups of people have disagreements and arguments, and the Church is no exception. Even from the earliest times, it seems, Christians disagreed over the best way to be Christians.

In Rome, among other things, they are arguing about diet and about the observance of special days. So lets talk about diet first. The conflict is between those who eat meat and those who are vegetarians. Now, if these two groups were arguing today, it would likely be about how much land and water it takes to raise cattle, or about the relative health benefits of eating and not eating meat, or about how ethical it is to raise animals for meat, or how much pain they feel when they are slaughtered. These are all potentially interesting questions. However, none of these questions are the questions that Christians in Rome were considering when they had their conflict over diet.

For them, the issues were different. There were probably two main things in question for these early Christians. The first has to do with the method of butchery. There are specific regulations in the bible about the proper way to slaughter animals. This is part of what makes meat kosher or not. Living as they did, in the Gentile city of Rome, it would be hard to ensure that any meat they might have bought in the market had been butchered properly in the way prescribed by scripture. If it wasn’t possible to get Kosher meat, then maybe it was best not to eat meat at all. Or perhaps, these sorts of regulations did not matter for Gentile Christians. Maybe it was okay for Gentile Christians to eat non-Kosher food because the Kosher laws only applied to Jews.

But there was another issue that also had to do with the slaughter of meat. In the ancient world, nearly every religious tradition practiced animal sacrifice. When we modern people imagine animal sacrifice, we usually think of a cruel ritual in which an animal is killed and then its body is burned on the altar of some god. Occasionally the ancients did perform these sorts of whole burnt sacrifices, but most of the time things worked a bit differently. A person would bring their animal to a temple and hand it over to the priest. Then, through whatever rituals were prescribed by that god, the priests would slaughter the animal. Then they would begin the butchery process. Typically, only the undesirable parts of the animal, like the bone, fat, and blood, would be burned for the gods. The priests would take a portion of the meat for themselves, as payment, and they would return the rest to the person who had brought the sacrifice. They would take it home and use it for their meals, or to a market to sell. A temple of animal sacrifice was actually much more like a butcher shop than it was like the images we usually have in our heads. This is how animals were slaughtered at the temple of God in Jerusalem. It’s also how they were slaughtered at the various pagan temples throughout the Roman world.

This presented a problem for Christians in Rome, though. If they bought meat in the market, chances are that it had been offered to Jupiter, or Mars, or Isis, or some other pagan god before it ended up in the shop for sale. So if they bought that meat and ate it, wouldn’t it mean that they were practicing idolatry? Wouldn’t they, in effect, be worshipping other gods? If they were too poor to buy meat and had access to meat only when it was distributed for free at public festivals, then it was most definitely meat that had been sacrificed to foreign gods. For this reason, many Christians, following the example of the Book of Daniel, decided that as long as they lived in Gentile cities, where meat was offered to the gods before it was sold, they would simply refrain for eating any meat and be vegetarians.

Others, though, had a different idea on the matter. They argued that since there was only one true God, all of the pagan gods were really nothing at all. They didn’t exist. Therefore, even if meat had been offered up to Apollo, there really was no Apollo, so it hadn’t been offered to anything except some inanimate statue of wood or stone. If the pagan gods weren’t real, then what did it matter if meat had been sacrificed to them. It was fine to eat meat from pagan temples, because those pagan gods didn’t really exist anyway.

The other conflict was over the setting aside of days. Some people set aside certain days as holy. Maybe Saturday, as the Sabbath commanded in scripture, or maybe Sunday, as the Lord’s day. Other people said that every day was the same, and there was no need to set aside a special day for God. Ancient Rome, by the way, had no weekends. Every day was a work day, though there were plenty of holidays and feast days and days off to watch the games or the gladiators. The fact that Jews, and some Christians, took off one day a week for religious observance, seemed like a strange oddity to most of their Gentile neighbors.


And so, Paul is writing to Christian communities that disagree over what the proper thing is for Christians to do. We modern Christians still have our arguments. And interestingly, we still argue about things like diet and scheduling. Most Christians set aside Sunday for worship, but Seventh-Day Adventists insist that the proper day for worship is Saturday, the day prescribed by the bible. Jehovah’s Witnesses refrain from celebrating any holidays. Likewise, some Christians eat whatever they want whenever they want. Catholics and Orthodox Christians, though, abstain from meat on Fridays and certain other fast days. Mormons abstain from caffeine. Some Methodists and Baptists abstain from alcohol.

But our disagreements are not limited just to calendars and food. We disagree about worship styles; should it be medieval worship, or nineteenth-century worship, or contemporary worship? We disagree about music; should it be chant, or baroque, or gospel, or rock & roll? We disagree about how to take communion; should we use juice or wine, should we dip into a common cup, or drink from a common cup, or have individual cups, should the bread be leavened or unleavened, should we celebrate it once a year, once a quarter, once a month, once a week, or once a day? We disagree about mission; should we focus on helping people in need, or on righting the injustices of society, or on winning souls for Christ?We disagree on worship space; should we have an altar or a table, what should we put in the middle, the altar, the pulpit, the choir, or the organ? Should we have an empty cross, or a cross with Jesus on it, or a projection screen? Is Jesus a man, or is he God, or is he half man and half God, or is he somehow all man and all God? When is the proper day to celebrate Easter? What kinds of clothes are appropriate to wear to church? What age do you need to be in order to be baptized, and how many times should you be baptized? What kinds of prayers should we say, and what things should we pray for? When should we sit, and when should we stand, and when should we kneel?

As you might guess, I could go on and on. And these are just the strictly religious arguments. I haven’t even touched the social arguments or the political arguments that we Christians have with one another. Things like, what is the proper response to violence, and when, if ever, is it legitimate to go to war? We have plenty of things to disagree about, to squabble over, even to fight over.

This congregation has a rather unique opportunity for disagreement. Most congregations are a part of only one denomination, and so many of the potential disagreements have already been settled. There is not only the power of denominational doctrine, but also the weight of long-held tradition within the particular congregation. But we are one congregation with two denominations. That means that sometimes the Lutheran way of doing things and the United Methodist way of doing things are not exactly the same. And we are also the joining together of two historic congregations. That means that even when the UMC stance and the ELCA stance do not conflict, there might be differences in the ways that Asbury has usually done things and the ways that Our Redeemer has usually done things. We haven’t been together for very long, so we are still building our own traditions together.

To be clear, all congregations have conflicts and disagreements. All congregations are made up of people who have different expectations, different histories, and different needs. My home congregation in Salem still had hotly contested debates over whether or not they should bring back the dossel cloth, a sort of tapestry the used to hang in the front of the chancel. To give some perspective, the dossel cloth hadn’t hung in the sanctuary since before I was born, but some people were still hot under the collar about its removal and wanted to bring it back. All congregations have disagreement and conflict. But our particular situation and identity mean that we often find ourselves with different expectations. And the fact that we are one congregation with two denominations means that when there is disagreement or conflict, we are likely to frame that disagreement as Lutheran vs. Methodist, or as Asbury vs. Our Redeemer, even when that is not the most accurate way to characterize the disagreement.

One example I’ve heard about that is the Lord’s Prayer. We use a newer translation of the Lord’s Prayer in worship, one that is different than many of you might have learned as children, but one that is much less archaic. Now, I have heard Lutherans complain about having to use the Methodist Lord’s Prayer. And I’ve heard Methodists complain about having to use the Lutheran Lord’s Prayer. The truth is that both denominations have the exact same position on the matter. Both have traditionally used the version with ‘trespasses,’ and both have recommended shifting to the newer, ecumenical text for several decades now. But since it seems like something new and different, it’s easy for us to assume that it must be a denominational difference, even though it isn’t.


All that is to say that this message from Paul about disagreement in the Church is particularly important for us. So what does Paul say to the Christians who are squabbling in Rome? He tells them to welcome one another, but not for the purpose of arguing over differences of opinion. He says that Christians who abstain from meat do so in order to honor God, and Christians who eat meat do so giving thanks to God. Likewise, Christians who set aside special days for worship, do so to honor God, and Christians who see every day alike also do so in honor of God, a God who, after all, is not confined to Sunday mornings.

And he says something else that is very interesting. He says, “Let everyone be convinced in their own minds.” Translated another way, “Each person must have their own convictions.” That means that they don’t have to try to convert each other, or to put each other down. It is alright for them to have different beliefs, and opinions, and practices. They can do things differently and all still be Christians. They can all believe what they believe in their own minds, and yet still accept the differences they have, still embrace each other as sisters and brothers in Christ.

In the verses that immediately follow the ones we read today, Paul goes even farther. He says that it is fine to have your own convictions and your own practices, so long as they don’t become a stumbling block to others. He says that he knows that idols don’t amount to anything, and he has no qualms about eating meat that has been sacrificed before them. But, he says, he would rather never eat meat again if eating meat might cause someone else to stumble.


And that is a message we can still hear today. We can use that advice in this congregation. Yes, there will be times when we have differences. We might have different traditions around communion, or the celebration of holidays, or hymnody, or particular points of theology. And the first thing would should know is that it’s okay to have differences. It’s okay for us to have a variety of expression of our Christian faith.

But we also have to be mindful of how our convictions might effect others. Paul is very clear that we should not insist on our own way if it means that it might cause one of our sisters or brothers to stumble. Sometimes we have to rein in our own preferences for the benefit of others.

It’s not unlike that Willamette motto: not unto ourselves alone are we born. We are not only responsible for our own preferences. We are responsible for the welfare of our sisters and brothers. That includes the spiritual welfare of those we share this congregation with.


Now, we live in the most religiously fragmented society in the history of Christianity. There are more denominations now in the United States than there have ever been in the history of the world. It used to be that the church favored unity over what they called schism. It was more important that the church stay one than it was that everyone believe their own things, or the exact same thing. But these days, we’ll break off into different denominations over just about anything. And even though the Mainline Protestant denominations have started working together more closely, it still hasn’t led to much of what we call organic unity.

This is what makes us special. This is what makes our project here so important. We have been called by God to live that organic unity. We have been called to work against the trend. Christianity has been moving toward greater and greater division, greater and greater factionalism. But we have been called to live the unity that is so sorely lacking in the Church universal. We have the chance to be an example. We have the chance to lead the way, to show how Christians with different backgrounds can take seriously our belief that we are part of one body, that we are members of one family: God’s family.

Notes-N-News

Happy Sunny Day everyone!

++  This evening 6:00pm is a Safe Sanctuary Class for anyone who didn’t attend Sunday’s class. Soup will be served.

++  Sign-ups are needed for Coffee Hour, Ushers, flowers etc this month.

++  Sunday School for preschool and elementary youth starts during 10:30 worship, this Sunday 14th, upon the “passing of the peace” part of our service. Sunday School will meet the 2nd thru 5th Sundays of the month.

++  Confirmation Class/Youth Group-  middle/highschool youth and parents are invited to an introduction meeting at 6pm Sunday in the office house. Meal in included.

++   Happy Hands will be meeting at Pat Pettit’s home, 1809 Montello, every Monday during September at 9am. It is open to all women who like to do crafts. Bring your craft along and join the fun.

++   Recycling- Items brought to church to be recycled need to be free of food residue; CLEAN! Styrofoam must be tape free and SNAP; nothing bendable.  Sharon P. and Craig T.

++   Women of our church: WELCA meets this Saturday, September 13th from 10-12 noon in the fellowship room. We’ll follow with a salad and dessert potluck.  All women of the church are invited to come and enjoy the fellowship, help plan some activities and  enjoy a delicious lunch.  Please call Kathy Terry if any questions.

++   School Supplies:  A huge thank you to everyone who contributed school supplies and money for supplies for the Parkdale Elementary School.  After church on August 31st, we had 456 crayons, 32 markers, 47 glue sticks, 232 pencils, 12 scissors, 6 boxes of Kleenex, 5 large bottles of hand sanitizer, 21 rulers, 41 notebooks, 80 colored pencils, 45 pencil-top erasers, 9 large erasers, 4 boxes of Band-aids, 24 folders, 2 calculators, 450 sheets loose-leaf paper, and 10 backpacks!!  And more has come in since this count was taken.  Plus $78 to buy more supplies!!   The folks at Parkdale were so appreciative – you have made a big difference in our community.  Thank you again from Faith In Action.

++  The next Women’s Spiritual Group meeting will be on Oct 4 (Sat) at (9:00am) in the Fellowship Hall. We’re meeting there instead of the church office for easier access for members attending.  Carol Kyger

++  Card Class meets this Sunday 14th at 1:15.

++  The Emergency Voucher Program in Hood River is searching for volunteers. The program provides food, gas and lodging vouchers to clients who are in a crisis situation. The role of a volunteer is to listen to the client’s story, write appropriate vouchers, and refer to other services. Volunteers needed for 2 hour shifts, Monday-Friday, 12pm to 2pm. Please contact Rev. Anna Carmichael if interested. 541-386-2077 revannacarmichael@gmail.com

 

Blessings!

Jennifer Fowler
Office Manager

Sermon: Love One Another

Sunday 7 September 2014
The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 23A

Romans 13:8-14

Many Christians in our age define the faith in the importance of accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior. Accept Jesus Christ and you will be saved. This is, of course, an important message. But I wonder if sometimes we focus on conversion to the exclusion of everything else. People might be led to believe that once you have accepted Jesus in your heart, or once you are baptized, there is nothing left to do as a Christian.

The message from Paul in the Letter to the Romans today, however, tackles head on the question of what we do once we have already accepted Jesus as lord. Specifically, how are we to live in light of the love that God has shown us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus? How should our actions be different than before we were believers? How should they be different than before we knew Jesus?

Paul starts by telling us that we should pay off all of our debts and owe nothing to anyone. The idea is that if we have debts, in either money or favors, then we will be tied down, burdened, and fettered, and we won’t have the freedom to do the things we should as Christians. If we are beholden to other people, then our responsibilities to them may conflict with our responsibilities to God. It’s like the idea that a politician who takes tons of money from a special interest group may not be able to do what’s right for her constituents when the time comes.

Except, Paul says, there is one debt that you can never fully pay off: the debt of loving one another. Now, we don’t usually think of love as a debt that has to be repaid. But Paul is reminding us that the love God has shown us through the live, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is so immense, in fact it is immeasurable, infinite love. It is so great that we could never love God back the amount that God has loved us. And furthermore, the primary way that we are asked to love God is by loving our neighbors, by loving each other. And so it is that we can never fully pay back our debt of love to our neighbors, a debt that is not held by our neighbors themselves, but by God. Therefore, Paul says, loving your neighbor is the only debt that you should have.

And its not only the only debt that you should have, love is also the only law that you should have. The Hebrew scriptures are filled with laws and commandments, at least 613 of them, and in Paul’s time there were continual arguments about how to follow them, and which ones were more important, and when there might be exceptions to certain laws.

It’s not that much different for us. We Christians continue to have an awful lot of laws and rules. And we continue to debate which ones are more important than others, which should be followed at which times, and which have exceptions or should be ignored. What does it mean, for example, to keep the Sabbath? Is it on Sunday or Saturday? Should we really do no work? What about mowing the lawn or cooking dinner?

Or what about the other rules? Should Christians dance, or gamble, or drink, or smoke? How much money are we required to give to the church? Should we give money to beggars? What should we do for the hungry? Should we vote for Republicans or Democrats? Which sexual relationships are sanctioned and which are not? How should we treat members of other churches or of other religions? These are all serious questions for Christians in our modern world.

But Paul suggests that we don’t need a bunch of rules to cover every possible situation. We shouldn’t try to legislate our morality and keep score of who is behaving righteously and who is not. No, we don’t need a whole slew of rules: we only need one rule: love one another. That’s it. Just love one another. Paul says that every other rule and commandment flows out of that one simple rule. Love one another. If we truly love one another, and we live out our love for one another in every situation, then we will have surely fulfilled all of the other rules and commandments, because they all flow from love. They are all simply variations on the theme of loving God and loving one another. So stop arguing about the rules, stop taking notes and keeping score of who is following them, and simply love one another, and apply that love to every action that you take. If you do that, everything else will fall into place.

And don’t forget that the reason that we love our neighbor is not because they deserve it or have earned it. After all, we don’t deserve God’s love, we haven’t earned it, it isn’t our due. And yet, God loves us with an abundant, immeasurable love that we can scarcely imagine. That is the reason that we love one another: because God first loved us.

Let’s face it, a whole lot of our neighbors don’t deserve our love. Our enemies haven’t earned our love. But that is completely irrelevant in light of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Just because other people might hate us, it is not an excuse not to love them. It’s God’s love that we are responding to, not other people’s. And God asks that we return that love by passing it on, paying it forward, and loving all of the people in our world, whomever they might be and whatever they might have done.


And, Paul reminds us, don’t forget what time it is. The night is nearly over, the day is close at hand. Wake up! Salvation is closer now than when we were first believers.

Now, we might be tempted to discount this warning out of hand. Paul seems to be saying that we should be on our best behavior because Jesus is about to return, and we don’t want him to catch us while we’re misbehaving. But it’s been nearly 2000 years since Paul wrote those words, and the world still hasn’t come to an end, so why should we listen to Paul’s warnings. Hundreds of generations have gone by without Paul’s predictions coming true, it seems, so why should we trust him?

Well, that would be true, except that it’s not exactly what Paul is saying. He’s not just saying that it’s almost time for Jesus to return, so you’d better look busy, although he did probably believe that Jesus would return much sooner than now. Nevertheless, Paul is saying something more complicated and more pertinent than that.

He’s saying that we are at a point in time when the old age, what he calls the night, and the new age, which he calls day, are overlapping. We are still living in the night, but the day has already begun to break forth.

That is to say that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus have started something in motion. The Kingdom of God is already dawning, already breaking into the world. And even though we have not yet reached that time when the Kingdom of God has fully taken control of everything, it has already begun to do so. And we have a choice to live either in the old age, the age of darkness, or to live in the new age, the age of light.

In the age of darkness, people can get away with all kinds of evil things. They can get away with not loving each other, because in the dark, everything is hidden. You can’t see the wrong things that people are doing.

But in the age of light, everything is exposed. You can’t get away with anything, because the light reveals all. All of our actions, whether good or bad, are open for everyone to see.

So it’s easy to see why most people choose to live in the darkness. It seems like a much easier path. But we are called to live in the light, to live as if the Kingdom of God were already in complete control, to put on the armor of light that will protect us from slipping back into the darkness, where anything goes.

Let us then live in the light, loving one another as if everyone could see our actions, as if we were representatives and emissaries of God’s Kingdom. Because that is in fact exactly what we are. People look at us to see how Christians behave. So let us live as Christians. And let the world know that we are Christians by the love that we show, not just for each other, but for the whole world.

Notes-N-News

++ You may be asking yourselves, “how do we get to the office?!” People are doing two different options : you may come through our church building, and use the sidewalk out the backdoor of the fellowship hall, which leads to the office. This works only if you have a key, however.  The other option is to walk on the west side of the church, around the back and access the sidewalk from there. You also may call the office and I can meet anyone in front of the church if you’re just wanting to drop something off. Thank you!

++ Monday Sept 1st is Labor Day and the office will be closed.

++ Tomorrow, Thursday May 28th at  6:00pm  Choir Potluck at Morning Song Acres for choir members and those who may be interested in joining choir. Contact Marv Turner or Myrin & Audrey Bentz.

++ This Sunday, Sept 31st is a Designated Giving Sunday for school supplies for Parkdale School. You may donate supplies or a monetary amount noted on your giving envelope.

++ WELCA quilting meets Wed Sept 3rd at 9am.

++ Saturday, Sept 6th  Women’s Spiritual Group meets at 9am in the church office.

Blessings!

Jennifer Fowler
Office Manager

Sermon: Get Behind Me

Sunday 31 August 2014
The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 22C

Matthew 16:21-28

Today’s sermon is about Rocky. No, it’s not about the boxer portrayed by Sylvester Stallone. It’s about the apostle Peter. Peter isn’t his given name though. You might remember, when Jesus called him, his name was Simon. But Jesus gave him a nickname. In Aramaic, the nickname was Cephas. In Greek, it was Πετρος. And if you’ve spent any time studying for the SAT’s, you can guess what it means. Petros, as in petroglyph or petrified, means: rock. So, in English: Rocky.

Now, the passage we have for this morning has that famous phrase from Jesus to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan.” Quite a memorable moment. But how do we go from Jesus calling Peter, “the Rock,” the foundation, the stable one, to Jesus calling Peter “Satan”? To figure that out, we’ve got to rewind a bit. And we’ve got to rewind a little farther than the beginning of today’s passage back to Matthew 16:13.

We read it in worship last week. Jesus asks his disciples who people are saying that he is. And they report back what they’ve heard. Some people are saying that you’re John the Baptist. Other people are saying that you’re Elijah, returned from heaven. Other people are saying that you’re Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets.

Well that’s a little strange, isn’t it? Why would people think that Jesus was John the Baptist, especially since they were both around at the same time. John baptized Jesus, didn’t he? And why would they think that he was one of the Old Testament prophets? Israel doesn’t really have a tradition of reincarnation. What would they mean by saying that Jesus is Jeremiah?

The only suggestion of theirs that makes any sense is the suggestion that Jesus might be Elijah. You might remember the story of Elijah and the chariot of fire. According to the bible, Elijah doesn’t die. Instead, at the end of his life on earth, he is swooped up into heaven in a fiery chariot. Because of this, a lot of people thought that Elijah might return some day. But how could Jesus, at 30-years-old be mistaken for the now ancient prophet Elijah? It’s not entirely clear.

Whatever else they might be saying about Jesus, though, the crowds are clear that Jesus is something really special. He is not just some everyday traveling preacher. When they think of Jesus, they think of events on a cosmic scale. They think of long-dead prophets reappearing, of Elijah returning, as if it were the apocalyptic end of the age.

So Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is. Rocky, Peter, is the one who speaks up for everyone. He say’s, “You are the Christ, Son of the living God.” Now, at the time, those word probably meant something a bit different than what they mean to us today. Christ, and it’s Aramaic equivalent, Messiah, both mean anointed. So that means that Peter thinks Jesus is either a prophet or a king or both. Prophets and kings were both anointed as a sign of their office. It doesn’t mean that Jesus is God, and Jesus would not have been the only person who was considered to be a christ.

Peter also says that Jesus is the Son of the living God. As counterintuitive as it seems to us, he still might not have meant that Jesus was God. Son of God was a common title for the kings of Israel. It could also be used to refer to any extraordinary prophet, philosopher, warrior, or ruler. Son of God also happened to be one of the official titles of the Roman Emperor, printed on virtually every Roman coin, which is probably part of the reason that Jesus ends up getting crucified. When the Romans hear words like “anointed” and “Son of God,” they immediately think emperor or king—a political rival to the authority of Rome.

Whatever the case, though, Jesus seems very happy with Peter’s answer. In Matthew, and only in Matthew, Jesus showers praise on Peter, saying that he is the rock, and on this rock I will build my church; you have the keys of the kingdom, etc. etc. If you’ve ever read a Dan Brown novel, you probably know that these words became very important to later Roman Catholics, who regard Peter as the first pope. They use this text to argue that all future popes also have a special place as holders of the keys of the kingdom.

So, Jesus is very happy with Peter’s answer. He’s happy that Peter has recognized who he really is: God’s anointed, God’s son. Right after he finishes praising Peter for how rock-like and foundational he is, Jesus has a quick line telling the disciples not to tell anyone else that he is the Messiah. I’m not going to deal with that today, but next year, when we read the Gospel of Mark, we’ll get into it.

So there is Jesus with his disciples. Peter has just been congratulated for saying that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. What are the disciples expecting?… They are expecting that Jesus is going to do what virtually everyone at the time thought the next messiah was going to do: kick out the Romans. That was priority number one for any new messiah. Raise an army, defeat the Romans, and reestablish the kingdom of Israel. It would have gone without saying. Everyone would have expected a messiah to lead a military rebellion.

But what does Jesus do? It’s at the beginning of today’s passage. Jesus starts talking about how he is going to, and I quote, “Go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and legal experts, and that he had to be killed and raised on the third day.”

Now, for us Christians twenty centuries later, that all sounds like exactly what Jesus, the Christ, was meant to do. But for pretty much anyone at the time, Jesus was talking nonsense. The Messiah does not go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. The Messiah goes to Jerusalem to be enthroned, to establish a Kingdom, to end the Roman military occupation.

And so, we should not be surprised by how Peter reacts. Peter says, essentially, “Um, Jesus… didn’t you just hear what I was saying? You’re the Christ. You’re the Son of God. Suffering and dying isn’t really on the agenda. Would you like us to start rounding up some swords? We could do that. I’m all for going to Jerusalem, but everyone knows you’re not going there to die.” I really like how the Common English Bible puts it: Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him.” If Jesus is alright with being called the Messiah, then he’s probably just a little confused about who the Messiah is, and Peter is there to correct him. You can be sure that all the other disciples were glad that Peter was doing it.

And Jesus turns on a dime. He goes straight from happy praise of Peter to angry rebuke: “Get behind me, Satan.” Wow.. It’s hard to imagine anything Jesus could have said that would have been harsher. And Jesus continues, “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stumbling block to me.” He had just been going on and on about how Peter was a foundation rock on which he would build the church. Now, he’s still calling Peter a rock, but he’s no longer a foundation stone. Now he’s a rock that Jesus is afraid of tripping over.

The problem is that Jesus and Peter have fundamentally different ideas of who Jesus is. They can agree on the words. Jesus is the Christ. He’s the Son of God. But when Peter says, Christ, Son of God, it means something very different than when Jesus says Christ, Son of God.

And that’s not a problem that we have overcome in the intervening two millennia. We have an awful lot of churchy words that most Christians know and throw around, but we don’t necessarily agree on what they mean. It’s not just Christ and Son of God. We have plenty of words to build misunderstanding around. Salvation, atonement, justification, righteousness, justice, peace, Kingdom, belief, faith, disciple, heaven, hell, even Christian. All of these words are crucial to understanding and describing who we are and what we believe. And yet, it would be very difficult for all of the Christians in Hood River to agree to common defitions of these key words, let alone to get all the Christians in the world to do so.

And there’s another word in our passage for today that can be equally problematic. That word is ‘cross.’ Now, at first glance, it wouldn’t seem like such a controversial word. A cross is a fairly recognizable physical object. I can make one with my arms. I can trace the sign of the cross across my body. I can look up on the wall and see a cross. Many of you are probably wearing crosses around your necks. What’s to misunderstand?

Today, a cross seems like a fairly obvious symbol for Christ, for Christians, and for Christianity. It’s a bit like a brand marker. If you see a cross on something, you know that that thing is supposed to be Christian. A building with a cross is probably a church. A book with a cross might be a bible. A person with a cross is a Christian. It functions in the same way as the McDonald’s arches or the Nike swoosh.

The first few centuries of Christians didn’t use the cross like we do, though. They, unlike us, still had first hand knowledge of what crosses were used for. And what crosses were used for were torture and execution. Imagine if instead of a cross up here on the back wall of the chancel, we hung an electric chair, or a gas chamber, or a noose, or a collection of lethal injection drugs. It is only because crosses are no longer used for execution that we can avoid the horror of the image of the cross.

And so when Jesus says, “All who want to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me,” those are much more radical words than we usually admit. We are usually prepared to admit that following Jesus might be difficult at times, that it’s not always easy to be a Christian. Jesus suggests something far more revolutionary. Jesus says that anyone who wants to be a disciple should be prepared to die. Jesus seems to suggest that being a Christian means doing things that would be so radical that it would get them killed.

There are still some Christians in our age who live their faith loud enough to be killed for it. Martin Luther King and Óscar Romero come to mind. And there are others.

But most of us are more like Peter in the story. When things get dicy, we are ready to get out. When there is conflict or struggle or disorder or controversy, we are so quick to say, “God forbid it, Lord! This must not happen!” But Jesus invites us to look struggle in the face, to look hostility in face, to look inertia in the face and to keep walking.

Whoever would be my disciple must deny themselves, pick up their cross, and follow me, Jesus says. When we encounter opposition to the progress of God’s Kingdom, when the going of our faith gets tough, we should not be fooled into thinking that the Christian thing to do is to not make any waves, to be quiet and polite. If we are really followers of Jesus of Nazareth, then we should expect to do quite the opposite. If we follow Jesus, then when we encounter opposition, we must keep walking. We must even be willing to take up our own cross as we move ahead for the Kingdom of God.

Notes-N-News

Good afternoon!

 

++ You may be asking yourselves, “how do we get to the office?!” People are doing two different options : you may come through our church building, and use the sidewalk out the backdoor of the fellowship hall, which leads to the office. This works only if you have a key, however.  The other option is to walk on the west side of the church, around the back and access the sidewalk from there. You also may call the office and I can meet anyone in front of the church if you’re just wanting to drop something off. Thank you!

++ Monday Sept 1st is Labor Day and the office will be closed.

++ This Sunday, Aug 31st is a Designated Giving Sunday for school supplies for Parkdale School. You may donate supplies or a monetary amount noted on your giving envelope.

++ WELCA quilting meets Wed Sept 3rd at 9am.

++ Saturday, Sept 6th  Women’s Spiritual Group meets at 9am in the church office.

 

Blessings!

Jennifer Fowler
Office Manager

Sermon: Don’t Think Too Highly

Asbury Our Redeemer Partnership
Sunday 24 August 2014
The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 12:1-8

Paul has an important message for us today. Although, it’s not always the easiest message for us to hear. It’s a message about how we live together in community. It’s a message about how we recognize our own gifts, how we respect the gifts of others, and how we choose to interact with each other.

Part of it is a very familiar message. Paul talks about the church as a body. Just like a body, the church is made up of many parts—it’s made up of many different people. And like a body, not all of the parts are the same. Bodies have toes and noses, eyes, and thighs, fingers and femurs, capillaries and kidneys—more parts than we could name if we spent all morning, and each of them has a different job. We humans are the most complicated machines on the planet. The knee can’t do the job of the neuron. The pinky can’t do the job of the pupil. The tibia can’t do the job of the tongue. They’re each very different. They each have different abilities. They each have a different job to do. We can only exist because of the diversity of our parts. 37 trillion cells in the human body, and they each have to perform their one particular task. That diversity of purpose is what makes each of us a human being instead pile of 37 trillion amoebas.

And we know from experience that our human communities function in the same way. It is the specialization of human society that allows for civilization. We can only have engineers because someone is baking the bread. We can only have musicians because someone is tending the crops. If we didn’t have different gifts, if we didn’t have different skills, then we couldn’t have civilization.

In the church we see a similar circumstance. If the same person who prepared the altar also had to lead the bible study, distribute the food, create the bulletin, weed the flower beds, call on the sick, evangelize, sing the solos, clean the bathrooms, preach the sermons, and make the coffee, chances are none of those jobs would get done very well. Each one of us has a very particular set of talents and therefore a very particular way that we can be of the best use to God. We’re not talking about a starkly deterministic system, in which each person is born into one and only one function, where everyone’s roles are determined ahead of time and no one can ever change or learn or grow. That would be pushing Paul’s metaphor too far. But we all know that there are certain things we are each better at than other things. There are certain things that we are more gifted at, or get more joy from doing. And it’s good that we have a diversity of gifts in the church, because there are a lot of different things that God has for us to do. Disciples of Jesus Christ are not cookie-cutter replicas of each other. God’s Kingdom is reaching into the world in a variety of different ways and across a variety of different circumstances, and so, God needs a variety of different disciples in order to meet those challenges.

So that’s all fairly intuitive. It’s not particularly controversial or challenging. We have different gifts. Do the things that you’re good at. Leave the things that you’re not very good at to someone else. That actually seems kind of comforting. It’s like Paul is letting us off the hook for being responsible for the kinds of things we would rather not be responsible for. Oh, my gift’s not gardening, so I guess I don’t have to worry about pulling the weeds. I’ll leave that to someone else.

But that isn’t really the force of Paul’s argument. Paul is hardly ever in the business of getting people off the hook. And the force of Paul’s argument becomes clearer when we look at how he introduces the metaphor of the body. He begins, “ I say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think.”

Don’t think more highly of yourself that you ought to. That doesn’t sound like the feel-good, each-one-of-us-is-unique-and-special-like-a-snowflake message we were getting from the body metaphor before. What is Paul trying to say about our place in the body that is the Church if he starts out like that? Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought.

Paul continues, “Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you.” That sounds even worse than before. Now, not only is Paul warning us not to think too highly of ourselves, but he’s suggesting that the difference between us aren’t really difference of kind, but differences of quantity. Each on of us has been given a certain amount of faith by God. God gives some people lots of faith and other people not very much faith at all. That’s the way that we are different from one another, Paul seems to be suggesting. It’s because some of us have lots of faith and others have hardly any, and there’s nothing we can do about it. God chose, seemingly at random, whom to bless with more faith, and we just have to deal with it.

And that sounds like a pretty horrible message. It probably wouldn’t have sounded so bad several centuries ago, when people really believed that they were born into a particular station in life and all they had to do was fulfill their role and not rock the boat by trying to be something else. But for us twenty-first century Americans, this message is utterly abhorrent. We believe in freedom and individual choice. We believe that we can do anything we set our minds to. We believe that we can become anything, do anything, so long as we make the choice to do it and follow through on our commitment. Self-determination is one of the founding principles of our society.

And here is Paul seeming to say, “God just makes some people better than other people. It’s important that you know your place.” What a backward thinking jerk!

Now, I’ve overstated Paul’s case a bit to make a point. The reality of what Paul is saying is not that harsh, but it is almost as uncomfortable.

I don’t think Paul is trying to enforce hierarchy in the way I was suggesting. But he does seem to be making a very difficult point about relationality. It is about how we function together as a unit. It is about how we treat each other, how we communicate with each other, and how we express power and control with and over one another.

And what Paul is saying seems to be something like this: if I am not particularly good with plants and I don’t have a very good sense of design, perhaps it would be best if I didn’t try to dominate the church’s landscape committee. If I don’t understand music very well, it’s probably best if I don’t insist on being the choirmaster. If I’m not very good with people, it would probably be better for all concerned if I weren’t heading up the welcome team. Those are some extreme examples, but I think you get the point. Paul says that we should express our gifts in proportion to the faith and grace that we have in those areas.

Here’s another way to think about it. We should not try to express our gifts in a way that stifles the gifts of others. If there are three virtuoso violinists in the orchestra and I’ve been playing for a year and a half, but I insist on taking every violin solo, then I am stifling the gifts of others. Or if I am the manager of that same orchestra with three extraordinary violinists, but I prefer banjo music, so I insist on programming only music that features the banjo, then I am stifling the gifts of others.

If I think too highly of myself, and if that causes me to think that my talents are far superior to anyone else, or it leads me to believe that my preferences are more important than those of anybody else, then I may very easily fall into a pattern of suppressing the God-given gifts of those around me. And when I suppress gifts of those around me, I wound the Body of Christ. When I suppress the gifts of others, especially on account of my own ego, I wound the Body of Christ, no less than if I were driving in nails.

But that is a very bitter prospect to face. It’s hard, because it means we have to look clearly and soberly at ourselves. We have to evaluate our own gifts, without making the mistake of undervaluing ourselves so that we never share our gifts with anyone, and without making the mistake of overvaluing ourselves, so that we hinder those around us.

If we are a body together, then the actions and goodness and disease of each one of us effects all of us. If I overvalue my preferences and demand my own way in everything, it effects us all. If I overvalue my gifts so that I keep others from expressing theirs and so that the needed work never gets done, it effects us all. If, through my words or actions, I wound one of my sisters or brothers in Christ, then we all carry the wound. Christ carries the wound.

And that is an awesome responsibility. It is an awesome responsibility to be a part of the Body of Christ. It is an awesome responsibility to be a part of a community. Thanks be to God, who gives us every good gift. May God grant us the additional gift of knowing how to use them. Amen.

Notes-N-News

Listen to me, you who look for righteousness,
you who seek the LORD:
Look to the rock from which you were cut
and to the quarry where you were dug.

Look to Abraham you ancestor,
and to Sarah, who gave you birth.
They were alone when I called them,
but I blessed them and made them many.

– Isaiah 51:1-2

 

If you are trying to find righteousness and justice, if you are trying to find God’s way, then look to where you came from. Look to the ancestors. Look to your predecessors in the faith. Put another way, if you’re trying to live a Godly life, then learn from the saints.

Protestants don’t have a very strong tradition of studying the lives of the saints. It’s one of those practices that often seems to strike us as too Roman Catholic. It’s a bit strange, when you think about it, though. We study the story of God’s relationship with humanity from the earliest times up until nearly the time of Jesus in the Hebrew Bible. Then we study the life of Jesus and the very early church in the New Testament. But you we usually don’t spend much time at all study the relationship between God and the church in all the intervening time between the second century and now. That’s a lot of lived faith and experience that we’re missing out on.

Though few of us probably use them, both Lutherans and Methodists have a calendar of saint days, a listing and schedule of saints whose lives are worth studying and imitating. The Lutheran calendar for this week remembers: the Apostle Bartholomew, one of the Twelve; Moses the Black, a fourth-century Ethiopian convert and monk who died for his faith; and Augustine of Hippo, the most influential theologian in Western Christianity. The Methodist calendar includes those three and adds Georgia Harkness, an early twentieth-century Social Gospel theologian who opposed racism, supported the ordination of women, and was the first woman to teach in a mainline Protestant seminary in the US. She also wrote the hymn “This Is My Song,” found both in the United Methodist Hymnal and Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

We may not pray to the saints, like Roman Catholics do, but we can certainly learn something from them. Whether they lived in the first century, the fourth century, or the twenty-first century, we can learn so much from seeing how real people, in a variety of different circumstances, lived out their Christian faith. If it’s not already a part of your devotional practice, I encourage you to learn more about our forebears in the faith and consider how their lives still witness to us today.

Your Servant in Christ,
+Pastor David


++ This Sunday 24th is Food on the 4th. You may donate non-perishable food items; egg cartons can always be used.

++ SPRC meets this Sunday at 11:30 in the Outreach house.

++ Card making class meets at 1:15 in the fellowship hall.

++ WELCA bible study meets Tuesday 26th at 2:00pm.

++ Join the choir! Anyone interested is invited to a potluck Thursday August 28th at 6pm with current choir members at Morning Song Acres. There will be singing, eating, and fellowship. Speak with Marv Turner if you have any questions.

++ Sunday 31st   Special Giving : you may donate school supplies or funds for supplies Parkdale Elementary School. Thank you Faith In Action for planning this giving.

++ Pastor Jill Rowland has accepted a call and is serving as CPE supervisor and chaplain at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, Randall Children’s Hospital, and The Oregon Burn Center. A Service of Installation for Jill takes place Friday, September 5, at 4:00pm / Lorenzen Conference Center of Legacy Emanuel Medical Center / 2801 N. Gantenbein Ave / Portland, OR. Clergy are invited to vest in the stole of their choice. Please RSVP by Monday, August 25th to: Lori Rice (Admin. Asst.)  503-413-4151 or lrice@lhs.org .

++ Fall Women’s Retreat at Cannon Beach Conference Center

The retreat is October 31-Nov 2nd. Our time together begins Friday evening and wraps up after worship on Sunday. The book for this year’s study is The Noticer by Andy Andrews. Look for more detailed information (rates, activities etc )in the September Newsletter when it comes out the end of August. Attendance and roommate sign-ups will be in the narthex the beginning of September.

 

If I roll my chair to the left of my desk, I can see through the trees the beginning of a beautiful ministry! Granted, there is a “wall” of dirt and sod which blocks part of the view, but I hear the sounds and feel the rumble in the ground of the backhoe and dump truck. Men at work; God at work. How wonderful!

 

Blessings!

Jennifer Fowler
Office Manager

Sermon: Grafted Tree

Asbury Our Redeemer Partnership
Hood River, Oregon
Sunday 17 August 2014
The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. David D. M. King

Romans 11:1-2a, 11-32

I took a little liberty with the lectionary this morning. As you may have noticed, in the second reading each week, we’ve been working our way through Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We started in Romans 6 back in the middle of June, and each week since then we’ve been moving our way through the epistle. The text assigned for today was Romans 11:1-2a and 20-32. And we read all of those verses. But I added a few. The lectionary skips over some very important verses here, verses that are at the heart of Paul’s understanding of where gentiles fit into God’s plan for salvation. It also happens to be one of my favorite passages in all of the writings of Paul. It is Paul’s metaphor of the grafted tree.

Traditionally, interpreters of Romans have focused on the first eight chapters. This is where all of the good Lutheran and Methodist theology about justification by faith alone comes from. Protestant theologians love the first eight chapters. Then they typically skip over chapters 9, 10, and 11 and begin interpreting again at chapter 12. They like chapters 12 through 15, and then skip chapter 16. These traditional interpreters prefer to skip chapter 16 because in it, Paul refers to one woman as a deacon and to another woman as an apostle. And of course the traditional interpreters, Luther and Wesley included, don’t much like the idea that women could be deacons, or pastors, or bishops, or apostles. So that’s why they don’t like chapter 16.

The reason they don’t like chapters 9-11 is different, but related. It doesn’t have to do with women, but it does have to do with inclusion. The reason traditional theologians don’t like chapters 9-11 is because of the way that Paul talks about Jews. And it starts with the way Paul talks about himself. You see, Paul is very clear in Romans that he is a Jew. He says nothing anywhere about being a Christian. Paul does not self-identify as a Christian; he self-identifies as a Jew, specifically as a Pharisee.

Now, the version of events that many of us learned in Sunday School goes something like this. Saul was a Jew. He persecuted Christians. On the road to Damascus, Saul was struck blind and had an encounter with the living Jesus. Saul converted to Christianity. He stopped being a Jew and became a Christian. At the same time, Saul’s name was changed to Paul as a sign of his conversion.

Unfortunately, that is not the story that is found in the bible. The story in the bible starts out the same. Saul is a Jew and he is a persecutor of the church. He has an encounter of the living Christ on the road to Damascus. But here is where the traditional story and the biblical story diverge. According to the bible, Paul does not convert from Judaism to Christianity. Paul remains a Jew. What happens at Damascus is that Jesus commissions Paul as the apostle to the gentiles. He remains a Jew, but he begins bringing a new message to the gentiles. Through Jesus Christ, God has established a way for gentiles to become part of God’s family, part of God’s chosen, without becoming Jews and following the biblical laws about circumcision and dietary regulations. In Acts, Paul’s name does change from Saul to Paul, but it doesn’t have anything to do with his experience on the road. When he is around people who speak Aramaic, he is referred to by his Aramaic name: Saul. When he is around people who speak Greek, he is referred to by the Greek version of his name: Paul. It would be the same if someone went by the name George when they were around English speakers, but went by the name Jorge when they were around Spanish speakers. Paul does not convert. Paul is called by Jesus to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. The reason his name seems to change is only because after his call experience, he spends more time with gentiles, who speak Greek rather than Aramaic.

So you can see why this would be a problem for the traditional interpreters. They are quite committed to the idea that Paul stops being a Jew after his experience on the road. With very few exceptions, the reformers were extremely anti-semitic. Luther, for example, argued that all of the homes and synagogues of Jews should be burned to the ground and that Jews should be rounded up and pressed into forced labor, expelled from Europe, or killed. Wesley was little better, arguing that Jews were completely outside the grace of God and beyond salvation.

So it is of little wonder that traditional Protestant theology has tried to ignore chapters 9-11 of Romans and that Paul’s image of the grafted tree is ignored by the lectionary. They were under the impression that Christians are assured of salvation while Jews can only hope for salvation if they stop being Jews and became Christians. What Paul says is quite different. Paul says that Jews are the natural objects for God’s favor and that gentile Christians can only be included in God’s family because we become a kind of honorary Jew.

He says it’s like a grafted tree. The Jewish people are, always have been, and always will be God’s chosen people. Jesus was a Jew, and all of his disciples were Jews. However, Jesus resurrection has changed things a bit. Jesus death and resurrection mean that it is now time for the prophecies in Isaiah to be fulfilled. It is time for the gathering of the gentiles to God’s holy mountain. Paul is convinced that it is time for the gentiles to come to God. He has a disagreement with some of the other Jesus followers, though. They think that gentiles have to become Jews in order to follow Jesus. But Paul is convinced that the gentiles have to come to God as gentiles. If they become Jews, then they will no longer be gentiles, and Isaiah is clear that the gentiles will come and worship on God’s holy mountain.

But, this creates its own problem. How can gentiles be cleansed of sin so that they can be a part of God’s family? Jews are cleansed through the continual observance of the law and the rituals that they perform in their homes and in the temple. But gentiles have generations of sin piled up. There isn’t enough time, Paul thinks, to purge all that sin through the normal means of Torah observance. Paul is convinced that God has made a new way for the gentiles. Jesus’ death and resurrection serve as the means of cleansing the gentiles so that we can be a part of God’s family.

And the way that we become part of God’s family is like a grafted tree. The tree represents the Jewish people, God’s chosen. It is an olive tree, in Paul’s metaphor. A nice, orchard-quality olive tree that has been cultivated over many centuries. At some point, some of the branches of this nice, cultivated olive tree are broken off. It’s not 100% clear what Paul associates with the breaking off, but the most likely thing is that the branches which are broken off are those Jews who refuse to accept that gentiles are now going to be a part of God’s family. In any case, some of the branches are broken off. Then God cuts the branches off of a different variety of olive tree, a wild variety that isn’t much good for agriculture. These branches from the wild tree are gentiles. God, like a master orchardist, grafts these wild branches into the broken spots on the cultivated tree. And because it’s God doing the grafting, these grafted branches actually change in nature. They don’t become Jews, but they start producing better fruit, fruit that isn’t good-for-nothing like before.

And what we have now is a single tree that represents God’s family. The root is Judaism. That is where the tree gets all of its water and minerals. But the tree has two different kinds of branches. Some of the branches produce the old, Jewish fruit. Some of the branches produce the new, gentile fruit. Both sides of the tree produce fruit. Both sides send their sugars back down to nourish the root. But they now exist as one organism, a unity constructed from diversity.

Neither Luther nor Wesley would like it very much, but that is the family of God that Paul envisions. He might think of himself as being right at the point of grafting, the bridge from Judaism to these new gentile members of the family of God.

And Paul speaks a further warning to the gentiles. Be careful, he says. Don’t forget that you are not the root, you are the graft. If God cut someone out to make room for you, don’t you think that God could cut you out and make room for someone else? So don’t be too uppity about your place in the world. Remember that Israel is God’s chosen people, and you get to have a share of Israel’s blessing through God’s extraordinary act of grace in grafting you in.

And there is no doubt that that is an extraordinary act of grace. We, through the self-giving death and resurrection of Jesus, have been offered new life. We have been offered forgiveness of our sins. We have been adopted by God and grafted into God’s family. We have been empowered to produce good fruit for the Kingdom of God. And it is all through God’s mighty acts of salvation in Jesus Christ. It is all through God’s grace, offered to us without price. It is all through God’s justification of us, which God accomplishes through the faith of Jesus Christ. May we never cease being thankful for God’s act of love in including us in the plan for salvation. And may we never presume to judge who else God might choose to include. Thanks be to God, who offers a grace that we have not earned. Alleluia. Amen.