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Saturday, December 25, 2010

No Fear

Christmas A 2010 12/24/10

Luke 2:1-20

The story begins with an act of government: In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. Why does this Roman census begin the Christmas story? It is like a skunk that ambles down the aisle at an elegant wedding. We want to hear about angels, shepherds, wise men, and a baby in a manger. Instead, the story begins with this odd tale of government bureaucracy.

While it is a way to get Joseph and Mary from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem, the home of David’s clan, so the prophecies about the Messiah can be fulfilled, these is something more going on in the story about a government census. What was the purpose of the census? It was so the occupying Roman government could levy taxes against the Jews. What did the taxes support? The wealth of Rome, the outrageous lifestyle of Caesar, and, most egregious, the Roman army of occupation. These pagans were everywhere, eating unclean food, disrupting Jewish observance, and crucifying dissenters. Everywhere the Jews looked, the Roman army reminded them of how their once-proud nation had fallen into despair. Those who tried to avoid the census were liable to be hunted down and tortured. The journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem is their response to a hated order from an oppressive, conquering empire. They go to Bethlehem in a climate of terror.

Since the dawn of time, leaders have known that terror is one of the most effective ways to manipulate and control people. The advertising industry uses fear to sell: the beauty industry exploits our fear of aging and fear of exclusion from the company of the attractive to sell their wares. Color out that grey hair, cover up those wrinkles, look young and beautiful and attractive. The entertainment industry exploits our fear of boredom to convince us to watch must-see-TV (there’s the ultimate oxymoron!) or the latest movie.

But there are darker agents of terror. One is religion. It is oh-so-easy for those of us in religious leadership to use fear to manipulate people. When I was in my first year of college, I went one Monday night to a fundamentalist Bible study in a dorm room. The professional leader of that group was present that night, and came to see me a week later to try to get me to join that group. I thanked him and said I wanted to be in a Bible study, but his met on Monday nights, and that was the meeting night for the Boy Scout Troop I was working with. He insisted that Bible study was more important than Boy Scouts. I replied that the Boy Scouts had sent me around the world and had shaped me in important ways, and that some of the Scouts in the troop were also in the Junior High Sunday School class I was teaching and the youth group I was counseling. I felt that working with Scouts was an important thing for me to do. His parting shot as he left my room was ”Well, we’ll see how effective you’ve been when your Scouts rot in hell.” It’s pretty hard to argue with that kind of theology. There are legions of people who have been burned with that kind of Christianity – who have been told that if they don’t believe and act and do exactly this, they are damned. Most people I know are more interested in a faith to live by, not a faith to die by. Or, as an old preacher once told me, you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar. But there’s no question that spiritual terror is an extremely effective tactic to control people.

We also live in a climate of political terror. Mind you, this is absolutely nothing new. Growing up in the 1950’s at the height of the Cold War, I believed that any moment the big air raid siren on the roof of my elementary school would go off, and a mushroom cloud would rise over Baltimore. John Kennedy was elected President in 1960 campaigning on the “missile gap” between the United States and the Soviet Union. There was, in fact, a nuclear missile gap between those nations, but not the way Kennedy portrayed it: the United States was substantially ahead of the Soviet Union, and the American missiles in Turkey aimed at Moscow were chief causes of Russia’s attempt to retaliate by putting missiles in Cuba in 1962. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln suspended the fundamental legal right of habeus corpus in the name of national security, in 1798 President John Adams issued the Alien and Sedition Acts, which suspended freedom of speech and of the press. And in our own day, the “War on Terror” has been used to justify the suspension of habeus corpus, the establishment of secret prisons, the use of private mercenary armies, the use of torture, and governmental spying on citizens. It’s highly effective, and it’s nothing new: people in power have known for millennia that fear is a highly effective motivator.

So, when the angel appears to bewildered shepherds on the hillside above Bethlehem, the declaration Do not be afraid is about ever so much more than terror caused by heavenly beings appearing in the night sky. These are the same words the angel says, many years later, to the women bewildered by an empty tomb: Do not be afraid. In a world ruled by fears of every kind – physical fear, emotional fear, spiritual fear, economic fear, political fear – the angel says Do not be afraid: I have good news. Emmanuel – God is with us. God’s perfect love has come to cast out every fear, so we can live lives radiant with hope and justice and love.

Years ago I read a story about a Christian missionary who had been captured by government agents in a South American country, and imprisoned and tortured. The interviewer asked how the missionary had come to be released by the government. The missionary said one day, lying beaten and bloodied in his cell, praying about how he was going to endure the torture, he had a realization: all the prison guards could do was kill him. They could take his life, but they could not separate him from God. They could not kill his soul. And at that moment, the missionary said, everything changed: the guards had no power over him. The next time they took him to be tortured, they realized they no longer had power over him, and released him. He was of absolutely no use to them if he was not afraid of them.

Jean Shepherd’s classic tale, made into the movie A Christmas Story, tells of Ralphie Parker, who, besides wanting a Red Ryder 200-shot BB gun that will shoot his eye out, is terrorized by the neighborhood bully, Scut Farkas, and his minion, Grover Dill. Much of the movie involves Ralphie and his friends running away from Scut and Grover until one day Scut hits Raphie with a slush ball. Ralphie flies into a blind rage, and beats the living daylights out of Scut. When Ralphie loses his fear of Scut, everything in the neighborhood, the school, and the Parker household changes. Ralphie no longer lives in terror – at least, until the BB ricochets and hits him in the eye.

Do not be afraid: I have good news. That is the heart and soul of the Christmas story. The empire has no power over you. Sin has no power over you. Death has no power over you. All the armies of Rome, all the machinations of the priesthood, all the manipulations of the culture can not keep this baby out. If there is no room in the inn, God makes room in a barn. If kings and queens will not cooperate, God will use a peasant. If the chosen people will not come to worship, God will call pagan astrologers. If the neighbors will not heed, angels will appear to shepherds. In a world that continues to sell bad news after bad news after bad news, trusting that we will react in fear, the angel says, Do not be afraid: I have good news.

Maybe that’s why we keep coming back, year after year, to see if the baby is still in the manger. All the powers of the world are stacked against the baby and what he represents, but the baby wins. If that baby can win, then what in the world are we afraid of? We can say to all the principalities and powers that want us to live in constant terror, We are not afraid. Yes, we will age and we will die. Yes, there will be people who reject us. Yes, we will sin and fall short of the glory of God. But we are not afraid. There is good news down in the City of David tonight: God has come to be with us forever. That changes everything in life and in death and in life beyond death. We are not afraid. Thanks be to God.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Matthew 1:18-25 -- Do The Right Thing

Advent 4A, 2010


Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 
‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, ‘God is with us.’

When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

I’m with Joseph, at least at the beginning of this story. If, a few months before Vicki and I got married – when I was in Georgia and she was in school in Charlotesville – she had called me on the phone and said, “I have some interesting news. I’m pregnant – but it’s not what you think. It’s by the Holy Spirit,” I would have broken the engagement for two reasons. First, my fiancée had been unfaithful. Second, either she was crazy, or she thought I was the dumbest man on the planet.

And I hope, like Joseph, I would have been loving enough to break off the engagement quietly, out of love for my fiancée. A quiet break was literally a matter of life and death – adultery by an engaged woman was punishable by stoning. Is it possible that years later, when confronted by an angry mob about to execute a woman guilty of adultery, Jesus thought about his mother’s predicament, and how close she had come to the same fate?

Joseph was simply trying to do the right thing. He had been wronged by this unfaithful woman, and he should have broken the engagement. The law entitled him to drag her before the elders for judgment and execution, but again, trying to do the right thing, he wanted to save her life and the life of the illegitimate child in her womb. She could go visit some relatives, have the baby, give it up for adoption, and move on with her life, and Joseph could move on with his. It was the right and lawful thing to do.

Or it was until that angel showed up in his dreams. This Joseph is much like his namesake a millennium and a half before, that pesky boy with the many-colored coat who kept having dreams about the world to come. “Joseph,” the angel said, “do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid: that’s not the last time we’ll hear that phrase in this story about the baby. “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her really is from the Holy Spirit. No, really, Joseph. You can’t make this stuff up. It’s a boy, and you must name him Yeshua – the Lord saves – for he will save his people from their sins.”

Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. Afraid of what? Of the law, of shame, of your and Mary’s and the baby’s reputations? Afraid of not doing the right thing, because marrying an adulterous woman is just wrong in oh so many ways? How can an angel tell you to break God’s law? Is this a fallen angel – a demon – tempting Joseph to disobey God’s clear commandment? If we start making exceptions from the law, then the whole society breaks down. Nothing is higher than the law, and we need to do the right thing.

Kentucky novelist Wendell Berry, in his short story, Fidelity, tells of the hospitalization of farmer Burley Coulter. Burley had no surviving relatives except his illegitimate son, Danny Branch, so when Burley went into a coma and was placed on life support, no one was able to make decisions about his medical care. Knowing that his father would never want to be kept alive by machine or to die in a hospital, Danny sneaks up a back stairway in the middle of the night, disconnects Burley from the machinery, carried him down the stairs to his pickup truck, and drives him out to a deserted barn. There, Danny makes Burley as comfortable as he can, builds a fire for warmth, and lets Burley die in peace. He then takes his father out into the woods he loved, and buries him in an unmarked grave.

This, of course, is a kidnapping, so the FBI is brought into the case. Detective Kyle Bode quickly determines Danny is the most likely suspect, but no one in the community will help him find or indict Danny. Bode goes to the community lawyer, Wheeler Catlett, demanding his help, because Catlett is an officer of the court and the law has been broken. Wheeler refuses to cooperate, noting that while one might need permission to get into a hospital, no one needs permission to leave one, because that would make it not a hospital but a prison.

"Well anyway, " Detective Bode said, "all I know is that the law has been broken, and that I am here to serve the law".

"But my boy, you don't eat or drink the law, or sit in the shade of it, or warm yourself by it, or wear it, or have your being in it. The law exists only to serve."

"Serve what?"

"Why, all the things that are above it. Love."[1]

Law is important. Rules are important. If we are going to live together without chaos, we need to have some boundaries for doing so. The law tells us what we expect of each other, and what God expects of us. There are perfectly good reasons for laws about faithfulness and adultery and breach of contract and betrayal. We want people to keep their promises to each other, and consequences when we don’t do the right thing. Joseph is a wonderful model as a man of faith – he is trying, with every ounce of his being, to do the right thing with God and with other people, including his fiancée.

But, the angel tells him, there are things that are beyond the rules, and above the law. The law exists to serve, and primarily to serve love. So, at Jesus’ conception, God breaks the law to reveal to us, through Joseph, that love is always the right thing to do.

Again and again during his adult life, Jesus will show us that love stands above all law: exercising compassion towards an adulterous woman; sharing meals with sinners; welcoming women, lepers, enemy collaborators, Samaritans, and Romans; defying the power of civil and religious authorities. Finally, he breaks the most absolute law of all: the law of death. In the name of love, he surrenders himself to death, shattering its power forever on the third day. “Only God,” said Francis of Assisi, “can say always and never.” All laws and rules, great and petty, exist only to serve all the things that are above them, most of all love.

This week, as you make your way to the manger, wonder and be astounded at this story that breaks all the rules. Born in a stable; attended by poor shepherds and worshipped by pagan astrologers; hunted by the authorities and becoming an illegal immigrant; finally executed by the law in the name of the law, Jesus is not just his heavenly Father’s son, he’s Joseph’s boy, too. He’s a chip off the block of the man who always wanted to do the right thing, and who ended up obeying the higher call of love.

Thanks be to God.

[1] Berry, Wendell, Fidelity, Pantheon: New York, 1992, p. 418

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Matthew 11:2-11 What Do You See?

Advent 3A, 2010


When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.’

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
 who will prepare your way before you.” 
Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Have you ever wanted something with every ounce of your heart and mind and soul, dreamed about it, talked about it, studied it to death, and then, once you finally had it, discovered it wasn’t everything you had cracked it up to be? Married folks, this is not the time for you to look at each other; parents, this is not the time for you to look at your children! That car, that house, that job, that gadget . . . or maybe even that person you worshipped from afar, that disappointed you. My mother decided one year that she simply could not live without a Stieff sterling silver bacon server to match the other rose pattern items in her silver chest. Her life was not complete without a sterling silver bacon server. She didn’t know how we had eaten bacon for all those years without one. So, on Christmas morning, there was a Stieff silver bacon server under the Christmas tree. I think we used it twice before it disappeared into the silver chest, and we used our forks or our fingers ever afterwards. My mother was no happier or fulfilled the day after receiving the bacon server than she was the day before.

I grew up dreaming of becoming a pilot. My entire existence was organized around the day I would fly an airplane by myself. My bedroom growing up was packed with plastic airplane models; I read every book I could find, watched every movie about flying, and talked about airplanes ad nauseum. I took flying lessons, and, less than a month after my fifteenth birthday, took off, circled the airfield, and landed Cessna 3188 X-ray by myself. It was the moment I’d been waiting for all my life. And when I got out of the plane, all I could think of was the Peggy Lee song popular in those days: Is That All There Is?

John the baptizer had been thrown in prison by King Herod for preaching revolution. He had identified Jesus as God’s anointed one who would bring God’s judgment upon the world, inaugurate the Messianic age, separate the wicked and the righteous, re-establish the nation of Israel and be its King. Jesus was John’s sterling silver bacon server, John’s pilot’s license – his entire existence had pointed to the Messiah. There are famous medieval paintings of Jesus and John, in which John points a bony finger at Jesus, signifying John’s ministry to look beyond himself and towards his cousin.

But Jesus doesn’t do what John said he would do. Matthew 9:35 and following says that Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Where’s the fire from heaven? Where’s the judgment? Where’s the destruction of the Romans, the establishment of independent Israel, the coronation of Jesus as King David’s long-expected successor? Good news? Healing? Compassion? Is that all there is?

So, from his prison cell, John sends his equally bewildered disciples to ask Jesus a question: Are you the one, or should we look elsewhere? Did John get it wrong? You certainly don’t look like what we were expecting. Is that all there is?

One of the hot topics these days in theology, culture, and philosophy is “the new atheism,” led by writers Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens, a famous conservative writer, contends that organized religion is "the main source of hatred in the world,”[v]iolent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children", and that accordingly it "ought to have a great deal on its conscience".[1] Hitchens, who is dying of metastatic esophageal cancer, vows that he will not become a believer before he dies – he will go defiantly into the night.

Christians and other believers need to read what the atheists say about us, because we need to confess our responsibility for their hatred towards belief. When I watch televangelists or listen to Christians on the radio or read the bigotry and hatefulness of self-identified believers, I often find myself far more in sympathy with the unbelievers than with the “Christians.” When the designated hitter for my beloved Orioles repeats the thoroughly disproven lie that our President was not born in this country, or when the Westboro Church of God announces it will deliver its hateful witness at the funeral of another American soldier or of poor Elizabeth Edwards, or when the Roman Catholic Church refuses to deal with the consequences of enforced celibacy among its clergy, I want to declare that if those people are Christians, I am something else. The Jesus they follow is not the Jesus I know.

So, how does Jesus respond not just to John the baptizer’s expectations, but to those of Christopher Hitchens, of Osama bin Laden, and of you and me?

Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me. The measure of faith is not the sophistication of our theology, the breadth of our knowledge of the Bible, our political affiliation, or our lifestyle. The measure of faith is not whether we meet each other’s expectations. It is simply this: as a result of our lives, are people beginning to see God, themselves, and the world as we really are? Are people who are crippled and paralyzed physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually beginning to move into new freedom? Are people who have been cast into the margins of human society now welcomed into our homes and our hearts? Are people who have no hope and no future now given life by the power of God’s love flowing through us? Do the poor in spirit and the poor in pocket both experience good news beyond the admonition to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. It’s hard to do that when you don’t have any shoes.

Brothers and sisters, at Christmas the whole world is watching to see whether the baby in the manger has changed anything. Christmas Eve our church will be packed with people who haven’t been here since last Christmas, checking to see whether there’s still a baby in the hay. We all come to the stable asking John’s question: Are you the one? The answer depends on what we see between Christmases: are the blind beginning to see, the lame beginning to walk, the deaf beginning to hear, the dead coming to life, and the poor hearing good news? Is our blindness, lameness, deafness, death, and poverty being healed, or are we the same old crowd as last year? Is the world a better place this year, does someone who didn’t feel loved last year feel loved this year, because of you and me? Are you the one, or are we to look for another?

The more Christmases I live, the more I wonder why we give each other presents for Jesus’ birthday. Doesn’t this gospel lesson this morning tell us that if we want to honor Jesus for his birthday, we should be giving gifts to the blind, the lame, the outcast, the deaf, the dying, and the poor? In our lobby is a Christmas tree covered with tags listing gifts for emotionally disturbed children at Hallmark Youthcare Center in Richmond. We have two church members in jail right now. We have church members struggling to pay their bills, because they have no work. CARITAS ministries with the homeless is full to the gills. I have been visiting a woman at Henrico Rehab who just had a leg amputated, and who has no friends and no family. If the sign of Jesus’ kingdom come is that the poor, the lame, the dead, the deaf, the outcast, and the blind all experience good news, then how might you and I faithfully honor Jesus for his birthday?

I’ll close with a story by my brother Jim Hewitt. When Jim was serving a church in Northern Virginia, one cold February Saturday he took his middle-school age confirmation class to work in a homeless shelter in downtown D.C. Several other adult leaders from the church went with them, and they spent the day helping prepare and serve food to the homeless poor of our nation’s capital. At the end of the day, they were getting into the church van when they noticed that the church treasurer, who had accompanied them, was barefoot. “Tom, what happened to your shoes and socks?” Jim asked in front of all the youth. “As I was serving food,” the treasurer answered, “a man came through the line barefoot. I asked him what happened to his shoes, and he said he didn’t have any. I asked him what size his feet were – 10 ½ -- my size. So I gave him my shoes and socks.” The confirmation class, Jim said afterwards, learned more in those fifteen seconds from their church treasurer about what it meant to follow Jesus than they had in three months in class.

The whole world is still asking, are you the one, or are we to look for another? The answer lies in what they see and what they hear – from us.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Advent 2A, 2010: First, the Bad News

Matthew 3:1-12 12/5/2010

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.” ’ 
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

Are you familiar with good news/bad news jokes? Like, the good news is that the United Methodist Women voted to send you a get-well card. The bad news is that the vote passed 21 – 20. Or, the UVa women’s basketball team finally won a game. The bad news is, they beat the men’s team. Or, the Church Council voted to send me on a trip to the Holy Land. The bad news is, they’re waiting for the next war to make the reservations.

In the joke format, the good news comes first, then the bad news comes as a humorous surprise. That’s how a joke works: the story takes you down a familiar road with a predictable conclusion, but, at the end, delivers an unexpected twist that shocks us into laughter. The gap between what we expected and what we received is what’s so funny.

The Christmas story doesn’t begin, however, with good news. The bad news comes first. The end of the world is at hand. God’s judgment is descending on all flesh. John the baptizer adopts the model provided by prophets like Jeremiah, who publicly smashes pottery, wears a slave’s yoke, and buys property just before the fall of Jerusalem, or like Hosea, who marries a prostitute who represents Israel’s faithlessness. John moves to the wilderness, wears animal skins and eats insects, to portray the coming destruction of Jewish society. He calls people to turn their lives around, and to be baptized, which heretofore had been a conversion ritual for Gentiles who were rejecting their old ways of life and embracing Judaism. Repent. Confess. Unquenchable fire. This is not good news.

Every Christmas, we want to hear the good news. We want to hear the stories about angels and shepherds and babies in feeding troughs. But who needs a Savior when there’s nothing we need to be saved from? The folk singer Arlo Guthrie put it well in his own twisted logic: you can’t have a light without a dark to put it in. If the world passes through Christmas without any transformation, it’s because if there’s no bad news, then there’s no good news. If there’s no sin confessed, there’s no sin forgiven. If there’s no death, there’s no resurrection. If there is no defeat, there is no victory.

Matthew says that people from Jerusalem and Judea and all the region along the Jordan were going out to the wilderness to hear John. You and I live in the wilderness, too, don’t we? There’s a wilderness in your home, a wilderness in your pew, a wilderness in your heart and head. When we are honest with God and with ourselves, you and I are surrounded by howling winds of sickness and death, wild animals of fear and despair, deserts of a broken economy and damaged ecology, darkness of family chaos, and the soaking, cold rain of injustice. False prophets abound, who tell us that if we will only think correctly, or vote correctly, or try harder, or eat better, or buy more, then all will be well. But no amount of thinking or voting or buying will help us avoid the wilderness. Israel had to go through the wilderness to get to the Promised Land; Jesus had to go through the cross to get to Easter. And, John the baptizer tells us, there will be no Savior unless we confess what we need to be saved from, not least of all, ourselves.

That’s why the bad news comes first in this story. That’s why the baby will be born elsewhere if we don’t name the garbage in our lives and throw it out to make room for him. The wheat seed is useless unless it’s separated from the chaff, which is the shell.

Jesus can’t save people who don’t need saving. Jesus can’t forgive what won’t be confessed. The light can’t shine without a darkness to put it in. So, this morning as you come to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, own up to your own wilderness. Confess your brokenness and sin. Surrender your doubt and your unbelief. Throw out the trash, and make room for God to change you, because there’s no good news unless the bad news comes first.