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. 
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 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.
The work of salvation, in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely souls; (2) about the present, not simply the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us. If we can get this straight, we will rediscover the historic basis for the full-orbed mission of the church.— N. T. Wright 
We need to get this right for our own sake, for the sake of the church, and for the sake of the world. When they founded the Methodist movement, John and Charles Wesley got this right.
 N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: Harper Collins, 2008), 200.
Augustine of Hippo was a great theologian and biblical scholar. He was a teacher who became the bishop of Hippo (in modern day Algeria). He was born in 354 A.D. and died of old age in 430 A.D. as the barbarian Vandals were besieging the city.
“They [riches] are gained with toil and kept with fear. They are enjoyed with danger and lost with grief. It is hard to be saved if we have them; and impossible if we love them; and scarcely can we have them but we shall love them inordinately. Teach us, O Lord, this difficult lesson: to manage conscientiously the goods we possess, and not covetously desire more than you give us.” — Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 133
Augustine’s influence on the western church was immense. Whether you know of him or not, whether you recognize it or not, how you think about God has been influenced by Augustine. I pray that the way he thought about riches might profoundly affect both your thinking and your living.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. … The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”
— Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We need to work for justice, but we need to do so with love, not hate. As we strive for justice in our church and in our nation, we must do so with love.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 47.