Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Shedding Our Dragon Skins

sermon preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Bellingham, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler, Curate

The countdown to Christmas has begun. It’s not Christmas yet, despite urgent cultural messages beating us about the head every day. I remember once, when we were kids, my brother Seth coming up to me and saying, “It’s nineteen days until Christmas.” And I said, “I know. It’s nineteen days until Christmas.” And a sort of quiver ran through him, and suddenly he shouted, “Christmas attack! AAAAAHHHHH!” And he started running all over the living room, letting off his spare energy.

It’s been a long time since Advent felt like that for me. But I imagine that, for a lot of us, our earliest memories of Advent are of intense longing for material things: what gifts will be under the tree? I mean, there’s even a new Star Wars film coming to theaters! For people my age, it’s like our childhood has returned. Will I get that Millennium Falcon that I can put my Han Solo and Chewbacca action figures into? It’s so soon … not yet. It’s almost here, not yet, but almost. And this is Advent language. It’s not just about Christmas, but it is in relation to Christmas. And deep within that longing for Christmas, as a child, for me, there was this lingering suspicion that maybe it’s not really about the material gifts, and that maybe the longing is even better than the having. How great might it be just to stay in the longing, because it’s such a luscious place to be? Advent is about the excitement of preparing our hearts for God’s arrival.

The prophet Malachi demands that we prepare for the coming of the Lord, and that we do so by making “offerings to the Lord in righteousness.” Apparently Malachi didn’t see a lot of that going on, which is why he had to say it. Yet he knew this was what God demanded: “offerings in righteousness.” What does that mean? “Righteousness” is one of those holy words that we assume we understand until we try to define it. I first learned what righteousness means in relation to Abraham: that Abraham was made righteous because he trusted God. Righteousness doesn’t mean moral behavior or a clean slate; it just means trusting God. So when we make offerings in righteousness, we are making offerings with complete trust.

Advent is also about judgment, and that rings through loud and clear in Malachi’s passage as well. We don’t like to think about being judged. I think many of us in this room tend to be the breed of Christians who say, “Well, God isn’t really like that. God isn’t a judgmental God; that’s a destructive stereotype.” And yet … and yet, we doubt. As Chuck discussed in his sermon last week, we assume that our sins might get in God’s way. We wonder: What am I going to be judged for? I know that I carry guilt over things I’ve done, and rightfully so. What will the judgment be, and what will the consequences of that judgment be?

Malachi gives us this idea of God approaching—the Advent idea of God coming to be with us—oh, to meet God face to face! Thy kingdom come! And then – oooh. To meet God face to face … Who can stand when he appears? How can I stand there without my knees knocking? What will my fate be? John the Baptist, in today’s Gospel, comes with that same Advent judgment that Malachi gave us. But John also brings a baptism of repentance, a way to restore righteousness, a symbolic, sacramental act for those who are ready to turn away from their sins and begin anew.

Don't bother to see the Disney movie
version. This scene isn't in it.
In his book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C. S. Lewis illustrates the perspective of Malachi and John the Baptist very well. The main character is a little boy whose name is Eustace Clarence Scrubb … and he almost deserves it. This little boy is petty and rude and self-centered and tiresome … and the worst crime of all, he has no imagination whatsoever. I mean, he only reads non-fiction, for God’s sake! And then, on a Narnian sea voyage—which he would rather not be on until he discovers a vast hoard of treasure—Eustace’s own greedy thoughts change him into a dragon. Finally he understands the monster that he has been to everyone around him. He fears that his companions will desert him on the island where he has been transformed, and who could blame them?

Then, one night, the great Lion Aslan comes to Eustace, leads him to a pool of water, and invites him to bathe. But Aslan orders Eustace to undress first. Well, Eustace, being a dragon, first objects that he hasn’t got any clothes on. And then he remembers that lizards shed their skins. And so he starts to pick at his skin, and it starts to flake, and then it starts to peel. And then he makes a tear, and the whole skin comes off. He leaves it there and gets down into the water. But as he goes to step into the water, Eustace realizes the skin is still on. Oh! There was another skin underneath the first dragon skin. So he steps back and starts to peel at that one. And that one eventually comes off. But he has yet another dragon skin underneath that one! Eustace’s heart sinks into hopelessness. Is there no cure?

That’s when Aslan says, “Come here. You must let me undress you.” Eustace recounts the story:

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know—if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.

This is what God’s judgment feels like. It hurts! And it helps us. When Eustace is finally without his skin, Aslan throws him into the water. And he comes out a boy again. In this way, according to the prophet Malachi, God refines us and scrubs us and peels away our reptilian skins. We can’t do it by ourselves.

Back in October, Todd Foster and I attended a conference at St. Mark’s Cathedral of Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church. We heard stories of addiction and recovery from many laypeople and clergy. And so the story of Eustace and his dragon skin reminds me of the first of the twelve steps in Alcoholics Anonymous: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” The other thing I learned is that we’re all addicted to something! Admitting our powerlessness is the first step to letting God tear into our dragony flesh and remove it. If we can never admit we are in the wrong, we cannot be saved from our own clinging, greedy, helpless selves.

To be judged, to be found wanting, and then to undergo the treatment … what better way could there be to deal with sin than this? We are afraid of God’s appearing, because we will have to change. We will be judged, but the things to remember about judgment are these. First of all, God will never destroy us, no matter what. This is not a destroying fire. This is a refining fire to make us more valuable, like silver. The second thing to remember is that “the one who began a good work within us,” as Paul wrote to the Philippians, “will bring it to completion” by the last day. God is invested in you and believes in you.

So what will we do when God arrives? And will we be able to stand when he appears? This is what we must trust: that no matter how God judges us, and no matter what the consequences of that judgment may be, we will be in the presence of the one in whom we delight, the one whom we have sought all our lives with the deepest of longings, whether we knew it or not, and that even in the presence of God’s fiery, loving, refining judgment, we will be able to stand.

During this Advent season, this time that isn’t yet Christmas, with Jesus not yet among us and yet, as a Christian people, among us even now in the breaking of the bread, we are anticipating the appearing of God’s Messiah. Let’s make room for him within our hearts by clearing away all pretense, all hiding, all justification, all excuses. Let’s prepare ourselves for God’s honest assessment of us, which, regardless of all else, will center on this one piece of Good News: YOU ARE LOVED. You are worth saving, and that saving work is done. Consent to be loved, and God’s Messiah will be born within you this Christmas and every day. Amen.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

More Selective

homily preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Bellingham, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler, Curate
November 4, 2015

In the 1984 comedy film This Is Spinal Tap, a mock documentary that follows the fading fortunes of an aging heavy metal band, Rob Reiner is interviewing the band’s manager. Observing the fact that the band’s audience has shrunk at every stop on the current tour, Reiner asks, “Has Spinal Tap gotten less popular?”

Spinal Tap's manager speaks softly and carries a cricket bat.
“Oh, no,” says the manager, “No, no, no, no, no … Spinal Tap is not less popular. Their audience has just gotten more selective.”

We laugh, because obviously, fewer numbers of fans in the stands means that the band is less popular. But then, it’s all too easy to take this question and apply it to the church. Is Christianity becoming less popular in the Western world? No, no, no, no, no … Christianity is not less popular. Our following has just gotten more selective.

And you know what? I think this is absolutely right.

For 1700 years, it was safe to assume that the majority of people living in the Western world were Christians. That is no longer the case. We are in the process of successfully decoupling faith and culture from each other. Partly, this is possible because of our commitment to radical individualism, about which I’m aware I’ve probably preached too much lately. But overall, I think it’s a good thing. Christianity is meant to be a countercultural force, not an assumed norm. When it becomes an assumed norm—as it did for 1700 years—it loses a lot of its vitality. We are now living in a time when Christianity can reclaim its main goal again: to spread the Good News of God’s salvation of the world through Jesus Christ.

Our goal is not to save people, or to make people behave in a certain way, or to make bad people into good people, or to raise lots of money, or to build grand cathedrals. These things might happen along the way, but where they don’t happen, that doesn’t mean the mission is failing.

The means to our goal might include weekly worship, feeding the hungry, teaching and learning about the Bible, and baptizing lots and lots of people into the church. These things are vital practices that aid our goal, but where they don’t happen, that doesn’t mean that God has abandoned our joint project.

It is such a big temptation for churches to count numbers. Whether you come from a tradition that counts “bums in the pews,” or a tradition that counts “souls saved,” we are comforted by the presence of more and more people among us. That has certainly been the case at St. Paul’s lately—we had 298 people at the 10:30 service this past Sunday, and that feels great! But in most places in the Episcopal Church, and in Christianity throughout the West, this just isn’t happening.

Christianity is getting more selective. And our gospel lesson today tells us that Jesus was selective, too, about who could be his followers.

Large crowds were following him around, we hear. The Jesus Movement was very popular, because healing and wholeness were flowing from this man’s very touch, and an abundance of food simply from his blessing. It seems that Jesus saw the need to make sure people knew what they were signing up for. It’s like when I talk to parents and potential godparents of infants and children, and I might ask blatantly, “Why on earth would you want to have your child baptized? Do you know what you’re getting your child into?”

Jesus tells us what the Jesus Movement must mean for us. It means putting God ahead of our families, such that our love for them looks like hate by comparison. It means carrying a cross—being willing to shoulder the burden of shameful execution as convicted criminals. After 1700 years of Constantinian Christianity in the Western world, we have a hard time imagining this cost.

The Rev. Canon Andrew White,
"Vicar of Baghdad"
Yet today in Iraq, Christians and other religious minorities are having to make exactly this decision: Cave under pressure, die, or become refugees. The Anglican Vicar of Baghdad, Andrew White, has a $157 million price on his head.  ISIS has killed over 1,200 of his parishioners. That’s the cost of being a Christian in the post-Saddam Hussein world, in a place where a twisted, evil version of an otherwise great religion is swiftly taking over.

Meanwhile in the United States, pampered Christians who have never learned what persecution is cry “persecution!” when someone wishes them “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas,” or when someone tells them that public prayer in public schools might not be appropriate, or when someone asks them to bake a wedding cake, or when a Muslim family moves into the neighborhood.

Perspective is a very helpful thing. In the United States, we’d have to stick our necks out pretty far to be persecuted for being Christians. A Christian identity is still the assumed norm, even if few people are choosing it. But this identity, being assumed, does not bring with it the cost that Jesus demanded of his first followers, or even of the first three centuries of his followers.

It might seem silly to ask this of you, a tiny group of dedicated Christians. But I’ll ask it anyway: “Are you sure you really want to sign up for this?” It’s good to keep asking ourselves this every day. Once we are baptized, we can’t be un-baptized. But we always get to decide what to do with our baptism.

In our privileged context, what do we do about the high cost of discipleship that Jesus spoke of? Chances are we won’t ever be put to the test to this extreme. But we will be put to the test in lesser ways.

Will we respect the dignity of every human being, even when it’s difficult or darn nigh impossible?

Will we pursue relationship with those who are very different from us? Will we swallow our pride and say, “I acknowledge that I can never fully understand your experience”?

Will we give more in time, talent, and treasure than our fellow human beings expect of us, simply for the joy of giving?

Will we dedicate ourselves to continual spiritual growth, even in old age?

Will we be prepared, on the day we meet face to face with the one who made us, to say, “I’m sorry—I was wrong—please forgive me”? Will we be able to accept the joy of salvation even if that also means salvation for certain of our enemies? Will we be able to forgive them?

Sometimes, relative to our own context, these are revolutionary steps for people like you and me to take. These steps don’t happen all at once, but they will be asked of us.

In many places in the world, Christianity is becoming more selective. Iraq now contains only one sixth of its Christian population from ten years ago. Martyrdom is widespread in Iraq; in the United States, it is barely even a possibility. But Christianity is becoming more selective here, too. And less popular. And maybe on this side of the ocean, at least, it’s a good thing. Those who are in church really want to be here, to learn, to grow, to love, to carry our crosses, and to change the world.

I’m glad all of you are here with me today, and that Jesus is with all of us in the breaking of the bread. Now let us pray for the needs of the world, and let us pray for the strength and the grace to carry our crosses for the sake of others. Amen.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Psalm 40 Realization

"In sacrifice and offering you take you no pleasure (you have given me ears to hear you)." - Psalm 40:7

"[Jesus said,] 'Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.' And he said, 'Let anyone with ears to hear listen!'" - Mark 4:8

A realization ... Jesus said many times that those who have ears should listen. What an odd expression, right?

Yet there it is, right in Psalm 40, a verse from a song that all Jews knew well, having been raised with it all their lives. Every time Jesus used this curious phrase, his hearers would have been brought right to Psalm 40, and to the phrase that precedes it: "In sacrifice and offering you take no pleasure."

In Matthew 9:13, Jesus is more direct: "Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.'" This is a direct quote from Hosea 6:6.

Jesus is drawing stark lines between the temple sacrifice system, which honors God, and embodied practices that honor human beings. To do the one while ignoring the other -- to sacrifice to God as an individual without being a part of the community -- is to participate in injustice.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Music for the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls

Posted for your listening pleasure, here is a 40-song series of suites for the Christian feasts of All Saints and All Souls—those holidays that follow from Halloween, or All Hallows Eve.

I’ve devoted much time and energy over the past 30 years to learning, understanding, and collecting popular music. Yes, I majored in music theory and music history in college, which takes in centuries of great music, including the whole swath of what is known generically as “classical.” But my primary love is pop music, for better or worse. Here is some of what I believe to be the better—some hits, some flops, and lots of deep album cuts.

from pixabay.com
The common theme is death. When Christians celebrate Halloween, we do so to mock the forces of death for their impotence in the face of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to deal with grief—indeed, it’s crucial for all humans to do so, just a part of the existential landscape that is common to us all. Years ago, I came to see November as a month for wrestling for with death—not just on Halloween and on the two Christians feasts that follow, but throughout the month until the season of Advent heralds the beginning of the wait for Christmas.

These 40 songs flow through the classic “stages of grief” enumerated by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in the 1960s. Although we now know much more about the malleability of these stages and that they are often experienced in a different order, those who are grieving can and do recognize when they are in one or another of them.

Here’s the track list, broken out by suite. I welcome your comments and questions.

Suite 1: The Souls of the Saints
Yael Naïm – New Soul
Simon & Garfunkel – Blessed
Sarah McLachlan – Prayer of St. Francis
They Might Be Giants – Older
Sufjan Stevens – Fourth of July
Rick Springfield – My Father’s Chair

Suite 2: Denial
Gillian Welch & Alison Krauss – I’ll Fly Away
They Might Be Giants – Turn Around
Tori Amos – Happy Phantom
Blood, Sweat & Tears – And When I Die
Fastball – The Way
Coldplay – 42
They Might Be Giants – Road Movie to Berlin

Suite 3: Anger
Death Cab for Cutie – I Will Follow You into the Dark
The Police – Spirits in the Material World
XTC – No Language in Our Lungs
Vampire Weekend – Diane Young
Howard Jones – Hunger for the Flesh
Oasis – Don’t Look Back in Anger
Queen – The Show Must Go On

Suite 4: Bargaining
Tennessee Ernie Ford – Sixteen Tons
Ralph Stanley – O Death
Blue Oyster Cult – (Don’t Fear) the Reaper
They Might Be Giants – Dead
XTC – Rook
The Postal Service – We Will Become Silhouettes

Suite 5: Depression
Bob Dylan – Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
Young the Giant – Cough Syrup
Men at Work – Overkill
Toad the Wet Sprocket – Begin
Metallica – Fade to Black
Queen – Who Wants to Live Forever

Suite 6: Acceptance
Of Monsters and Men – Little Talks
The Head & the Heart – These Days Are Numbered
Indigo Girls – History of Us
The Flaming Lips – Do You Realize??
Semisonic – Closing Time
Delta Rae – Dance in the Graveyards
Sufjan Stevens – We Won’t Need Legs to Stand
Edgar Leslie Bainton/Jeffrey Skidmore – And I Saw a New Heaven

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Since All Else Fails, Love

sermon preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Bellingham, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler

Carl Heinrich Block, Christ with Children
(source: Wikipedia)
I once heard a newly ordained priest preach on this passage about divorce. He was a 30-year-old man who had never been married, but he felt it was his duty to tackle the question, “Is divorce a sin?” No doubt many of the hundreds present had been through one or more divorces! But this preacher answered the question with an unqualified YES, divorce is a sin. And then he proceeded masterfully to put that YES into context, such that the divorcees in the room were able to understand that their sin was not necessarily any worse than the sins the rest of us have committed. We’re all in the same boat.

There’s a popular concept of Jesus as a softie, as someone who went easy on people. This passage is one example to the contrary, and there are many others. How about the passage in which Jesus says that lustful thoughts are also on the same level as adultery? How about Jesus’ frequent warnings to the rich that their failure to share is spiritually harming them? How about his insistence that if we’re not taking care of the poor and needy, we’re not fit to enter God’s Kingdom?

It seems to me that Jesus calls us to a much higher standard than the Pharisees ever envisioned. See, the Pharisees thought a person could actually fulfill the entire law of Moses. They didn’t understand why people didn’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make themselves worthier. That’s why Jesus was so critical of the Pharisees, at one point instructing them not to gripe about the speck of something in their neighbor’s eye before removing the giant tree limb from their own. In this teaching on divorce, Jesus informs us that, yes, we are all in the same sinking ship, even if it doesn’t feel like it. He sets us up to fail, so that we can let go of the illusion that we can make ourselves successful.

The Letter to the Hebrews talks about the sad condition of humanity. It begins with the passage we heard today, a sweeping summary of salvation history. God has tried to reach out to us time and time again, first speaking to us through prophets. Then God came to be with us in Jesus, and in so doing, God re-sanctified flesh and blood and bone as “very good.” And then Jesus went through hell right here on earth. One thrilling Christian narrative has it that Jesus also went through hell after he died, in order to liberate the souls imprisoned there and to destroy hell itself.

Last week Father Jonathan preached about his recent trip to Turkey and Iraq and the suffering he saw there among the refugees fleeing from so-called ISIS. He asserted that God does not inflict hell on us; we’re perfectly capable of inflicting it on ourselves and on each other. We saw that fact lived out again this week, in a scene in Roseburg, Oregon, that has become so familiar that we are ever more at risk of making peace with it. Please don’t make peace with it. Please don’t simply blame the shooter, or guns, or lack of access to mental health resources, and then throw up your hands and say, “Nothing will ever change.”

See, there’s a problem with the American narrative. It is contrary to the Christian narrative in one very key way. The American narrative tells us that we are nothing but a collection of solitary individuals who are only responsible to each other to whatever degree we choose to be. This, my friends, is a lie. We are all responsible to each other, whether we like it or not. But when we choose to deny that responsibility—when we say, “I am not my brother’s keeper”—we perpetuate the evil legacy of Cain and Abel.
The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that God has left nothing outside our control. God pursues us with love, but God doesn’t force our hand in any way, because God doesn’t use force. It is because we actually do have control over our lives that suffering is possible. But rather than step in and cause our suffering to cease, Jesus, the exact imprint of God’s very being, allowed himself to be arrested as a disgraced criminal, leaving his friends and family in peril. He would not take any violent action at all … and that’s the Teacher I follow. Jesus raised the bar of righteousness so high that we could never achieve it, and in so doing, he showed us what we already knew: we cannot win. Every one of us will fall apart and die one way or another.

If that were the end of the story, Christianity would be a religion of futility. But then Jesus came back. He wouldn’t stay dead! Jesus came back to show us what’s coming next, albeit in very mysterious terms that even his best friends and eyewitnesses couldn’t agree on how to fully express. Jesus gave us the blueprint of creation: his very self, poured out for us in love. And then he said, “Live by this blueprint, and you will live eternally. Give of yourself for the sake of others, and your life will truly matter—not only for the length of your tiny lifespan, but for all of eternity.” Or to put to briefly enough to slap on a bumper sticker: “Since all else fails, love.”

“Since all else fails, love.” If we can inflict hell on each other, we can also grow heaven among each other.

Marriage models God’s love for everyone around … except when it doesn’t. Parents teach their children how to love … except when they teach them how to fear. Businesses provide good things for society … except when they get so wrapped up in profit and self-interest that they cause more problems than they set out to solve. Religious communities also can lose their way and work against God’s love. And these things happen even while the marriages and parents and businesses and religions are doing lots of good things at the same time! We are a morass of successes and failures, every one of us, every day. We all do our best, except when we don’t, and we are all complicit in the sin of a sick society. And then we all die, all of us with our projects and aspirations. We all die.

But did we love? “Since all else fails, love.”

Elysia Gemora recently wrote this on the blog of EPIC, our campus ministry group: “It’s embarrassing, and yet, it is in our falling short where I (as a new-ish Episcopalian) have fallen in love with this community. More so than any other church I’ve experienced, Episcopalians welcome getting called out for mis-stepping and seek out critiques.”

I hope this does indeed describe St. Paul’s at its best. It is a proper display of Christian humility to learn to say, “I’m sorry,” and to ask, “How can I do better?” That is love working through failure. It isn’t the same as flailing around in a perfectionistic frenzy and then beating ourselves up when we drop the ball. We will drop the ball! Instead, it’s about recognizing that no, we’re not worthy, and we can’t make ourselves worthy, no matter how hard we try. But God considers us worthy. We’ll never be perfect, and yet God loves us anyway. What are human beings, that God is mindful of us? It’s shocking to think, and yet I firmly believe, that if I were to fail to mature in any way between now and the day I die, God would still love me infinitely. The same goes for you.

But how can we benefit from this love? Through humility and gratitude—humility and gratitude, powerful signs of a healthy Christian.

And so we come to Jesus’ remarks about children. A few weeks ago we were reminded that most children in Jesus’ time did not survive to adulthood. Children were bundles of potential, to be sure, but in the moment they were not seen as gifts but as useless nuisances. The youngest among them took and took and gave nothing that the community needed. This is what Jesus allows and blesses us to be: useless nuisances who might someday give something back for the sake of the Kingdom of God—or might not! And these are the people we’re called to love.

There’s another way to look at it, too. Children make lots of mistakes and then learn from them. I remind my daughter of this all the time, especially when I’m coaching her on her homework: Make mistakes! Please! I’ve learned almost nothing valuable without them. What we do naturally at first as children—learning from our failures—too many of us unlearn. We decide that if we can’t be right most of the time, we must not be adults yet. And so we either become entrenched in views and lifestyles that could probably benefit from some scrutiny, or else we retreat into comfortable familiarity and only do things we know we will succeed at. The older we get, the easier it is to be afraid of failure. But our fear will not save us.

What indulgence has God allowed you to foster due to your hardness of heart? What hardness of heart does God now call you to grow out of? Take counsel with me today from Jesus: failure is an option. We can thank God that there is nothing we can do to make God love us less—nothing whatsoever. That frees us up to attempt things. We cannot succeed or fail unless we practice, and this practice can flow from our gratitude. When we succeed, we will find that God was right there next to us all along, guiding our childish hands. And when we fail, we will find that our proper response is simply to let God love us back into wholeness—through the community around us, fellow citizens of God’s Kingdom.

So I invite you to practice with me! As we begin our fall pledge campaign, I invite you to make a financial pledge to St. Paul’s, even if you fail to fulfill it or have to modify it later. Don’t just put money in the plate: commit to a dollar amount for 2016. Strike out boldly to practice sharing, so that we may become better citizens of the Kingdom of God. In addition, I know a number of parishioners who are taking on new ministries right now. Practice something new for the sake of the mission of St. Paul’s. Or do something even gutsier: let something go, especially if it’s not feeding you, or if you perceive that it might no longer be feeding others. Change your priorities. Allow God to give you the strength you do not have in yourself. We’re all selfish, frightened beings, so let’s help each other work against selfishness and fear.

Since all else fails, love. Grow heaven among the people in your life. This kind of love takes practice. Will you practice alongside me? Let us pray.

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.