A bipartisan word of encouragement:
In a discussion this morning, one of my friends shared this quote from Brene Brown: “When we are in pain and fear, anger and hate are our go-to emotions.”  It’s a great insight and it’s convinced me to buy the book.
 Brown Brené, Braving the Wilderness: the Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone (New York: Random House, 2019), chapter 4, Kindle.
In prepping for my sermon this Sunday, I’ve reread John Wesley’s sermon on Philippians 2:12-13, titled “On Working Our Own Salvation.” In it he reminds the people called Methodists that, with God’s help, they can always do something to grow in the knowledge and love of God.
“You can do something, through Christ strengthening you. Stir up the spark of grace which is now in you, and he will give you more grace.” — John Wesley
God never abandons us. When we make use of the help God offers us, we open ourselves up to receive more help. Grace upon grace, help upon help, God’s love is always enough for us to move forward.
A succinct definition of holiness from Frederick Buechner:
ONLY GOD IS HOLY, just as only people are human. God’s holiness is God’s Godness. To speak of anything else as holy is to say that it has something of God’s mark upon it. Times, places, things, and people can all be holy, and when they are, they are usually not hard to recognize. 
You can sign up for devotions from Frederick Buechner at: https://bit.ly/3d1VWcU.
 Frederick Buechner, “Holiness,” in Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith (New York: HarperCollins, 2004).
Today’s quote is almost enough to get me to crack open Crime and Punishment, almost.
“At the last Judgment Christ will say to us, “Come, you also! Come, drunkards! Come, weaklings! Come, children of shame!” And he will say to us: “Vile beings, you who are in the image of the beast and bear his mark, but come all the same, you as well.” And the wise and prudent will say, “Lord, why do you welcome them?” And he will say: “If I welcome them, you wise men, if I welcome them, you prudent men, it is because not one of them has ever been judged worthy.” And he will stretch out his arms, and we will fall at his feet, and we will cry out sobbing, and then we will understand all, we will understand the Gospel of grace!” 
The risen Christ runs towards us with outstretched arms, we need only subject ourselves to being embraced.
 Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment, trans. Constance Garnett (New York: Random House, 1950), 322 as cited in The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning.
“Easter means you can put the truth of revolutionary love in a grave; but you can’t keep it there.” — Anne Lamott 
 Anne Lamott, Twitter post, April 12, 2020, 10:21 a.m., twitter.com/ANNELAMOTT.
Tonight, I’m thinking about Jesus’ sacrifice in the light of this quote from Frederick Buechner:
“To sacrifice something is to make it holy by giving it away for love.” 
Jesus’ life was holy before he was crucified. It was holy because he was giving it away throughout his entire life. His birth was a gift grounded in love. His ministry was a gift grounded in love. His healings and his miracles were gifts grounded in love. He had given away his life, he had made it holy, long before the cross. The cross was his greatest—but by no means his only—sacrifice.
We will probably not be called to give up our lives and die for others, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot make our lives holy. We can do so hour by hour, day by day, and year by year.
 Frederick Buechner, “Sacrifice,” in Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith (New York: HarperCollins, 2004).
During this Holy Week, as we remember Jesus’ passion and death, it’s only natural to wonder how exactly it worked. There are a lot of theories. But the theories are not the main thing. Indeed there is no single theory that can explain every aspect of what Christ Jesus accomplished on the cross.  I would even go so far as to say that all the theories taken together cannot fully explain it. But in the end that doesn’t really matter. As C. S. Lewis put it:
“The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work.” 
It works. We have been put right and given a fresh start. It’s not a bad thing to search for meaning and understanding but is enough to stand in awe before the mystery.
 (It’s also important to note that the object of our faith is not a theory but a person, Jesus the Messiah.)
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, HarperCollins, 1952), book 2, chap. 4.
In yesterday’s sermon, I talked about the fact that on the cross, Jesus won a victory over sin, evil, and death by the power of love. Here’s a summary by N. T. Wright:
“And that victory is won not by superior power of the same kind but by a different sort of power altogether. We know what the power of the world looks like. When push comes to shove, as it often does, it is the power of violence, using the threat of pain and death. It is, yes, the power of tanks and bombs, and also of guns and knives and whips and prisons and barbed wire and bulldozers. Weapons to destroy people’s lives; machines to destroy their homes. Cruelty in the home or at work. Malice and manipulation where there should be gentleness, kindness, and wisdom. Jesus’s power is of a totally different sort … The kingdoms of the world run on violence. The kingdom of God, Jesus declared, runs on love.” — N. T. Wright 
 N. T. Wright, Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes It Good (New York: Harper Collins, 2015), 43-44.
“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty, or mercy, which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.” — C. S. Lewis 
Let us take courage and love our neighbors.
 C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York, Harper Collins, 1952), chap. XXIX, Kindle.
In the midst of the COVID-19 onslaught, I keep going back to these words from A Statement of Faith of the United Church of Canada:
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
We don’t know what will happen in the coming days and weeks. We fear the worst, but pray for the best knowing that either way God will be with us. We are never alone. Thanks be to God.
I thought this quote from Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans was relevant to this morning’s sermon.
Contrary to what many of us are told, Israel’s origin stories weren’t designed to answer scientific, twenty-first-century questions about the beginning of the universe or the biological evolution of human beings, but rather were meant to answer then-pressing, ancient questions about the nature of God and God’s relationship to creation. 
The only thing I would add is that the “then pressing, ancient questions” are still relevant and still pressing today.
 Rachel Held Evans, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2018), 9.