Monday, November 30, 2015

How Do You Live in Hope when the World, Including Your World, Feels Stuck and Even Broken?

I hate to wait for anything.   Sometimes that has got me into trouble.   IAs a child very early one Christmas morning I woke up and discovered.  Santa had arrived.   I quickly ran and banged on my parents’ door to share the joyful news.  But they did not share nearly the same excitement.    They told me to go back to bed.   But I thought.  Here are my presents.   And here am I.   Why wait?  When my parents and siblings walked into that wrapping paper strewn living room two hours later, they did not see my reasoning at all.  But, well, I just hate to wait.

But really, who likes to wait?   Who looks at a long line at the store and says, “Wow, this is awesome!   15 minutes of waiting! This is my lucky day!”    Who celebrates a traffic jam or feels joy when they get put on hold?   Nobody likes to wait.   Still, as irritating as that type of waiting is, it’s not the worst.   At least with that waiting, you can see an end.  

But what of the waiting where you can’t?    You wait for a change in a relationship.  You want to see healing or simply for it to get better.  But you fear it will never happen.  You yearn for a change in your finances or your job, but it seems less and less likely.  You hunger for changes in yourself, changes that seem painfully slow in coming.  You hope for a changed world, one less brutal and more kind; one less scary and more safe, one that lifts you up more and grinds you down less.     Yet as you wait for those things, you wonder.   Will it ever happen?  Can it ever happen?   

How do you wait with hope in the midst of all the challenges of your life?  How do you carry hope for a world where so much is broken, where too often violence and hatred reign?  Here in these words, God shows us the way.   Let’s listen and hear what God has to say. 

How do you wait with hope in the face of all the disappointments and struggles of life?  How do you live with hope in a world where so much has gone wrong?  Here God tells us.   You realize who you are waiting for, who is even now coming into the world.    A King has come, and is coming still, a king who is coming to make all things right. 

That’s what these words from Isaiah are telling us.    Anyone who heard these words in the ancient world would know that.   That’s what the voice that is calling is announcing when he says, “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord.”   When a king came to visit his subjects, he didn’t just take any old way.   No, the king made a new one.    Haven’t you ever heard the phrase in some old story the king’s highway or the king’s way?   In those stories, they mean exactly what they say.    When a king came to visit some area, he made a new road just for that coming. Why?   Beyond showing his power and authority, the king did it for the same reason a politician in an election year loads up on the public works projects.   He wanted his subjects to see what a good deal they had, how the King was bringing good things.    But the king that Isaiah proclaims doesn’t just bring a nice road.   This king raises up valleys.  He brings mountains down.  He makes rough ground level and the rugged places a plain.   This king brings a way that changes everything.   He makes a way that brings the world we all yearn to see.  

Now if you’re honest, isn’t this what you yearn for, a world where everything gets made right?   Hasn’t every human being yearned for this, someone who will come and bring in the golden age, a world as it should be?    But you might say.  Sure, I dream for this.   I also dream of winning the Florida lottery.   But come on, isn’t this just some sort of wish fulfillment fantasy?  It can’t be real    But don’t you see the evidence for its truth right in your own heart?

Many years ago, the cat that I owned, Sen, came in the house and was making the strangest noise.  As he got closer, I saw why.   He was carrying a little field mouse in his jaw.   He dropped it in front of me, and the poor thing scrambled off.   But the little creature didn’t have a chance.  In a few moments, my cat, Sen, had cornered him again in the living room.   And in that moment, I swear that little mouse looked right into my eyes, as if saying, “Dude, you are my only hope.”    And I answered his call.   I went in the kitchen. I pulled out an empty piece of Tupperware, and some catnip.   I threw the catnip down, and my cat went to catnip heaven and forgot all about the mouse.   Then I went over, and opened up the lid of that Tupperware, and that mouse hopped right in.   I guess he figured any place was better than where he was.   I carried him out to the edge of the woods by my home, and as I let him out, I warned him.  “Stay clear of here.   I don’t know if I’ll be able to save you again.” 
But why did I do that?  Why did I care?   Isn’t that the way of nature?  The strong devour the weak.   

The poet Tennyson put it well. “Nature is red in tooth and claw.”   But why does that bother me?   Why do human beings care about the weak and vulnerable at all?    Why do you become appalled when the strong ruthlessly, even cruelly devour the weak?   Isn’t that the way of nature, and aren’t you part of nature?  Why do you have such trouble getting with the program?   Because somewhere inside of you, you sense that nature isn’t completely natural, that something in it has gone horribly wrong.   But how did you who evolved right out of nature get that idea?  Is it because youare some sort of strange mutation or is it because you sense a super-nature?  Is it because you sense a perspective beyond the world you see? When you get upset at how the strong devour the weak, you are picking up the perspective of the original designer, the creator’s original intention for the world.  Your heart and mind pick up that perspective, like a radio picks up radio waves.

This is the perspective that Isaiah proclaims, the perspective of the One that comes from beyond this world.   Otherwise how can all the people see the glory of this king together?   But this king comes to not only make the world right. This king comes to make us right.

Up until this chapter in Isaiah, the prophet has been delivering nothing but bad news, how the people of Israel have gone horribly wrong, and literally there will be hell to pay.   But here in this chapter, everything changes.  Hear the words again, and keep in mind that since this is a prophecy Isaiah is talking about the future, but relaying it to us like it already has happened.   “Comfort, comfort, my people, says your God.  “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that that she has from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”  God suddenly moves here from judgment to mercy.  Why?   As you first hear these words, you can think that God is saying, mercy will come because Jerusalem has suffered enough.    But Isaiah doesn’t say that at all.   Isaiah says that yes, the sins of Israel will be paid for, but not by Israel.   No, instead Isaiah proclaims.   God will pay the cost.  In fact, God will pay double the price.  
What does this mean?  Isaiah is saying.    God is not simply going to forgive you.   God isn’t simply going to pardon you.    God is going to restore you.    God is going to raise you higher than ever before.

Think about it.   If you were a prisoner on death row, and the Governor pardons you.  Does that solve your problems?  Sure, now you are free, but you still carry the weight of what you did.   You still walk out a marked man.   But what if not only are you pardoned, but the Governor adopts you as a member of her family.   She gives you an honored place at her table.  Now that would be some serious restoration.

And Isaiah is telling us.  This is what the coming King will do.   This king won’t just pardon you.   He will make you his own.   And in case we still don’t get it, he tells us this. 
Isaiah goes on and on about this king’s power.  His word stands forever.  “See the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him.”  Then boom, up pops up a completely different picture.   “He tends his flock like a shepherd; he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”   What is going on here? 
Isaiah is telling us.  Yes this King has power, but how does he use it?   He uses it to gather those that are lost.  He uses it to protect the vulnerable, and lead the young.  The king comes as a shepherd.  He comes as a shepherd who will even lay down his life for his sheep.

Do you begin to get why Christians have read these words for thousands of years before Christmas?   They don’t just describe any King.  They describe this King, the one born in a manger, the one that the angels proclaimed to the shepherds, the one who said, “I am the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep.”   

How can Israel’s sin be paid for, even doubly so?   How can the world in all its brokenness and evil get restored?  How can the mountains get brought down, and the valleys filled.   Because God will do it.  God will do what only God can.    The King will come and lay down his life for those whom he loves.   And when he does, everything will change.

But what Isaiah saw as the future, we know as the past and the present.   We know.  The King has come.  And this King is still coming.  And he is making low the mountains.  He is raising up the valleys.  He is revealing his glory, a glory that all the world can see. 

And so what do you do in the face of that news?   You wait, and you wait with hope.   And that means, you don’t worry.   Why?  Because if indeed the King has come, and is coming, then you already know who has the final say.   Violence, and hatred, and evil do not write the end of history.   The king does, a king who gathers the lambs in his arms.   Again and again, this king has shown that truth.   Yes are there bad things happening in our world?  Of course.  Can we understand how God is working in the midst of that?  Of course not.      Remember what Isaiah said, “His understanding no one can fathom.”  But just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean God is not working.

Remember what I said last week.   The Romans who killed Jesus had the greatest armies, the largest empire.   And Jesus had nothing, only a few hundred disciples at best. But where are the Romans today?   Today, we name our children Mary andElizabeth, and James and John.   And what do we name our dogs?  Caesar and Nero.  Doesn’t that tell you who really is king?

When you worry do you know what you are saying?   You are saying, “I know best.  I know how things need to go.  I know better than God does.”  Do you see how ridiculous that is?  The great reformer, Martin Luther had a colleague, Phillip Melanchthon, who worried about everything.  When Phillip came to Luther with some worry, do you know what Luther said?  He said, “Let Phillip cease to rule the world.”     Stop trying to rule the world.   Let your worry go.  

And letting worry go, doesn’t mean, you don’t take action.  You live under the King’s rule after all.  So live as the King orders.  Pray and love.  Do as Jesus calls you to.  Do that, and trust the king to deal with the rest. 

And as you do these things, live with hope.   Pessimism is a profoundly unchristian trait.  If you think the world is getting worse, not only are you wrong, you are behaving as if the gospel is not true.   You are acting as if God does not exist.   You are living as a functional atheist.    

And if you wait with hope, what will happen?  You will renew your strength.  You will soar on wings like eagles.  You will run and not grow weary.  You will walk and not be faint.   Why? 

Because this king, King Jesus, has made a new way.   Jesus made it with his very life.   And in Jesus way, the mountains fall, and the valleys rise.  In his way, he pays double for your sin.  In his way, Jesus doesn’t just forgive you.   He makes you God’s beloved child.   So when hard things hit, remember, you are a child of the King.  When things seem slow to change, remember who has overcome the world.   When you worry, remember the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  

Sunday, November 22, 2015

When Horrors like Paris and Mali Happen, You Can't Forget the End of the Story. What is the End? Read It Here.

I really like thrillers.   Those books, the good ones at least, well, they thrill me.  I can hardly wait to see what happens on the next page.   But sometimes, I wonder why.   Why do I find these books so thrilling? After all, I already know the ending. Let me make clear.  I don’t know it because I cheat.  I don’t peek at the last chapter.   So how do I know?   Because every thriller ends pretty much the same way. The hero wins.    You may not how he or she wins, but you can definitely know that they do. What sort of thriller would it be if you get to the end, and the villain shoots the hero dead?   It wouldn’t be a very good one.   Always at the end, the hero defeats the villains, solves the crime, makes what is wrong right again.  That’s part of what makes them so fun to read.

But do you realize, you live in a thriller?  You live in the most amazing, incredible thriller ever created.   But it isn’t a made up story.  It’s real.  It’s the most real thing in the entire universe.   And like any good thriller, we know the end of this story too.  But do you know this?   Do you really know it?  

Even if you know it, it can be easy to forget.  When bad news comes crashing into your life, you can forget.   When you see evil unleashed like we saw in Paris last week or Mali on Friday, you can forget.   How do you stay centered in the truth, in what is ultimately real, in a world where things still go horribly wrong?   In this story, Jesus shows us the way.  Let’s hear what Jesus has to say.  

In a world where things go so tragically wrong, how do you know things will come out right? How do you really know that? So that it changes your perspective; so that it transforms your life; so that it empowers you to live with the boldness of those who know the end of the story.   How does that happen?  It happens when you realize first that the truth really is the truth, and that, that truth walks with you every moment of every day.   And what is the truth?  Jesus lives.   Once you know that, really know it, you already know the end of the story, the only end that ultimately matters.  

As this story begins, Cleopas and his friend don’t have that end at all.   They only know this end.  The powers that be, have killed Jesus, the man they loved, the man they followed, the man they believed in.   And they are devastated.    They carry a sadness, a grief that has become almost overwhelming.   Do you see how Luke tells us that?   When Jesus approaches them, when he asks what are they discussing, what happens?   They stop.   At that question, they simply stand and bow their heads.    It literally takes a moment for one of them to collect himself enough to even answer his question.
And then they bring Jesus up to date on his own death.  Sheesh, you gotta see the irony in that.  Whenever I read this, I almost feel like I’m watching candid camera.   (These people think Jesus is dead, but he is actually the one talking to them right now.)    But what they say about Jesus tells us something crucially important.   How do they describe what happened?  They say.  “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.  The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him, but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”     Do you see where they go wrong?   One word says it all.  But…as in but we had hoped.

What had they hoped?   The word they use, redeemed, literally means to liberate from slavery.  And that’s what they expected Jesus to do.  They expected Jesus to liberate Israel, but not from sin and death, but from the evil Romans.  They looked for Jesus to raise up a revolution, to start a war.  That’s the liberation they were looking for.   But that liberation doesn’t liberate anything.  In the short term it does, but it never lasts.  Jesus didn’t come to change a little bit of history.  Jesus came to change everything, to change it forever.  Violence will never do that.   Only love will, only love that has no limits; that pays any price, only the love of God changes things forever.

In the midst of all the mess in the Middle East, you’ve gotta remember that.   ISIS has done horrible things.  They have killed thousands.  And in the face of that, defend ourselves, and the vulnerable who cannot do so, nations, including our own, may be compelled to fight.  But don’t deceive yourself.    You don’t defeat ISIS with guns and ammo.  Even the generals know that.   What defeats ISIS?    An old hymn says it best.  It starts out sounding well, war-like.  “Lead on, OKing eternal, the day of march has come; henceforth in fields of conquest thy tents shall be our home. Through days of preparation thy grace has made us strong; and now, O King eternal, we lift our battle song.”
But the second verse, tells the story:  “Lead on, O King eternal, till sin's fierce war shall cease, 
and holiness shall whisper the sweet amen of peace. For not with swords loud clashing, 
nor roll of stirring drums; with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.”   That’s how you defeat evil.    ISIS, and Boko Haram, and others, think violence and brutality wins the day.  But they will lose.    Those who trust in violence always have. 

Look at the Romans who crucified Jesus.   They had the greatest armies.  They created the biggest empire.  Yet, two thousand years later, we name our children, Peter and John, even Jesus.  And what do we name our dogs?  Caesar and Nero.   Does that not say everything?

Now for Cleopas and his friend, this truth is beginning to dawn.   They have heard the reports of the resurrection.  But they don’t yet believe.  So what does Jesus do in response to their doubts?  He delivers the proof   He lays out for them how the Messiah had to die and rise again from their own holy texts.  

And Jesus is still doing that, still delivering the proof.   In fact, he does it right here in this story.  Do you notice how Luke only gives us one name instead of two?  Why doesn’t Luke give us both names?  Did he forget?   No.  In ancient texts, when you include a name in an eyewitness account, youare delivering a sort of footnote.    What do I mean?  Well, what do footnotes do?  They substantiate your argument.  They deliver proof of the point you make.    And Luke is doing the same.  He gives the name of Cleopas, because when he is writing this story, Cleopas is alive.   Luke is saying.   If you doubt this, just go ask Cleopas.  He was there.   You see this sort of footnote in other places in the gospels.   When Jesus collapses carrying his cross, Mark tells us that the soldiers recruit a man in the crowd to carry it for him.   And how does Mark describe him?   He says.  “A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus.”  What do his sons have to do with it?  Mark is giving a footnote.   If you doubt this, ask Alexander and Rufus, it was their dad who did it.   Do you get this?   These stories in the Bible aren’t some nice fables meant to assure you that love triumphs over death.  They are telling you something that actually happened.    

How did followers who were so terrified, that instead of witnessing Jesus’ death they go into hiding become within a matter of weeks people who boldly proclaim that he is risen?   How, out of Judaism, the one religion in the world, most adamantly opposed to seeing a human being as divine, do you get devout Jews who say that very thing?   How does that happen?  It happens because this happened.   Jesus did rise from the dead.   Any other explanation is pretty much impossible.  As Sherlock Holmes put it.    “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”    

But Jesus doesn’t simply deliver a powerful argument to Cleopas and his friend, he delivers an even more powerful reality.   After their conversation, they invite him over for dinner.   And as he breaks the bread, they finally see.  It was Jesus walking with them all along.   But then they realize.  They already knew that, even before.  They say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road.”

In the end, you don’t know that Jesus lives, because you know it only in your head.   You know Jesus lives, because you experience him walking with you.   You don’t simply know the truth.  You experience the truth walking with you each day.

In this story, Jesus shows you how that works.   First, when Jesus walks with you, he meets you where you are.   Jesus doesn’t condemn Cleopas and his friend for missing the point of his coming.  He helps them see the point.    If you are struggling to believe, to begin the walk at all or just having a hard time putting one foot in front of another, know this.   Jesus is standing right where you are.  You don’t need to go anywhere to find him, he’s already there.

But while Jesus meets you where you are, he loves you too much to leave you there.   To walk with Jesus means you move forward.   You go somewhere.   And on that journey, you are not always going to know where Jesus is taking you.   But the more you walk, the more you will grow, the more you will become the very person you deeply yearn to be, that God created you to be.

That walk means you do your part.    You pray.  You read scripture.   You come to gatherings such as these.   And you give sacrificially to Jesus’ mission in the world. And as you pray, your prayers will become more like conversations with your best friend.  As you read the Bible, your heart will start to burn within you just like Cleopas’did.  . As you gather, you will not simply feel Jesus’ presence, you will see Jesus in those around you.   And as you give, you will discover what truly matters, instead of what the advertisers tell you does.  And in that giving you will learn that Jesus will always make sure you have enough bread for your journey.  He will provide.

Sisters and brothers, don’t you get it?  You know the end of the story.   You don’t know how we get to that end.  But you know it is coming.   The hero wins.  Love triumphs over hate.  Good defeats evil.    In fact, every good story is at its heart, this story, the story of Jesus.   How do you know this story is true?   Because, all the evidence makes clear that this actually happened.   But beyond the evidence, you can have the experience.  You can experience Jesus walking with you. 

And you can experience this, because Jesus first came to you.   He took the first step.  He walked in your shoes.  He became human.  He even became poor.   After all, it’s the poor who walk all the time.   And then he walked in your place.   He walked into death, into unspeakable suffering.  He walked into a place where even God cannot be found.    He walked there because he loves you.   And then he walked out of a tomb to show you that his love wins over everything.

Let him walk with you.   When you get worried over the news from Paris or Baghdad, remember Jesus defeated death.   So ISIS is no problem.   When you fell the weight of your worries and problems, let Jesus remind you, with him all things are possible.   You know, he rose again from the dead, don’t you?  So he can handle your problems.    When you simple feel alone, let Jesus remind you, you are not.    Let him walkwith you, and talk with you, and tell you that you are his own.   And the joy you will feel as you tarrythere, none other has ever known. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Is An Angry God Bad News? No, It's Actually Great News. Here's Why.

On the internet, have you noticed?   They make jokes about everything.   Nothing is sacred, certainly not God.    That’s when I wondered.   What sort of jokes are they making about God these days?  That’s when I came across it, the Angry God jokes.   The jokes use the same picture, even as they change the joke.   Clearly believers haven’t written them.   They don’t treat us fairly, but even in their unfairness, they make a point.  And sometimes, they’re even funny.    

Like for example this one, obviously directed to the Jewish members of the family. 

Or this one that does point out that God does get a bit detail oriented on the whole coveting thing.  But they don’t end there.
This one hits Christians pretty hard.  And sadly, the way we can communicate the Gospel, it may seem very much that way to some folks.  

And then, here’s another, that pretty much tells us what too many think of God these days.  '
It’s sad really, to see such a picture of God.  And it makes you wonder. 

Shouldn’t we be telling people that God isn’t angry, not at all?  God loves us no matter what.  We affirm that every week.   Lord knows, too many folks have been wounded by those who have painted a very harsh picture of God.     But God does get angry, very angry even.  The Bible tells us that again and again. 

But maybe that isn’t bad news.  Maybe it’s good news, very good news.  For without God’s anger, don’t you see?  We Christians have no real good news to share at all.   How can God’s anger be good news?   In this painful and poignant scene, Jesus shows us the way.  Let’s listen and hear what he has to say.   

Thinking of God as angry can make us uncomfortable.   But should it?  What if God’s anger comes as something not to disturb, but to profoundly comfort.   What if it tells us something that makes God’s love all that more real?  What do I mean?   In this story, Jesus shows us just how terrible yet profoundly beautiful, God’s anger is. 

Until this week, I had never seen it.    I don’t know why.   Looking back, it now seems so obvious.   The words here create a scene of almost shocking intensity.   Where our translation reads, “He began to be deeply distressed and troubled,” it literally says, that Jesus was astonished, stunned even, that he was filled with horror.   His grief so overwhelms him, he feels like he is going to die.   Then to cap it off, he literally throws himself on the ground, crying and praying to God for any way out God can find.  But why is Jesus so devastated, so utterly undone?  

Now you might say.   Kennedy, isn’t it obvious.   He’s facing torture and a brutal death.  But come on now, many followers of Jesus have faced similar physical trials, even worse ones.  And in the face of all that, they stand firm, even speaking with confidence to their persecutors.   How come Jesus’ followers have greater composure than Jesus does?    And forget about other Christians, we have stories of folks who had little or no Christian belief at all, and showed more composure too.     So what is going on here?

Why is Jesus, who is literally God come to earth, so utterly devastated, even to the point of death?   Because, the cross and the pain are the least of Jesus’ worries.   Jesus isn’t crying out to God for release from torture and a horrible death.   Jesus is crying out to God for release from wrath.   The sentence that Jesus prays makes that painfully clear.   He prays to God, “Let this cup pass from me.”    And in the Bible, that cup refers to only one thing, the cup of God’s wrath.   Here it is in words from the prophet Jeremiah:

For thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.      

And again, here it is, in the Prophet Isaiah….

Rouse yourself, rouse yourself!
    Stand up, O Jerusalem,
you who have drunk at the hand of the Lord
    the cup of his wrath,

Jesus isn’t terrified of a cross.  Jesus is terrified of facing the end result of God’s anguished anger at the evil and injustice of the world.    That is what is stunning him, the pain and agony of absorbing the brokenness and evil of this world, and the wrath of God that comes with it.  Before we get to this wrath of God thing, let’s talk a little bit more about God’s anger.    

Why does God get angry?   Because God cares.   You only get angry if you care.  

Many years ago, on a summer evening at my old home in New York, on my front stoop a friend was talking with someone who was staying with me.  I was up in my room, watching a cop show, with my window open.   And as I watched the show, I got angry.   Some criminal was doing a dastardly deed on a young innocent, and it got me all worked up.   I even began to rant out-loud a bit.   And then, I heard a somewhat shocked voice from below.  “Kennedy are you ok?”   What could I say, I got angry.   Even if the show was make-believe, I still cared.

Heck, if you’re a Dolphins' fan, this past Thursday evening, you might have found yourself getting a little worked up, even angry at a bad call or illegal hit.    Heck, you may not have even needed that to get angry.  They were playing the Patriots for Pete’s sake, who ran up the score just to rub it in (jerks).   And if you got angry, why did you?   You cared.   And heck, that was just a football team. 

Now think how would you feel if somebody did something terribly mean to your child?  I bet you’d have some anger then.    Or what if you saw your child or grandchild run into the street, and almost get hit by a car.  How’d you feel?   Heck, you’d likely be angry at everybody, your child, the driver of the car, even yourself.  Why?   You care.  No, you more than care.  You love.  That’s what anger is, not the petty self-pity we often call anger, but the real deal.  Anger comes from love.   Anger means the energy you feel when you are defending something or someone you love. 

If God gets angry, it doesn’t mean God hates you.   If God hated you, he wouldn’t care at all.   The ultimate hatred is indifference.   That’s where we get such sayings, “I wouldn’t spit on him, if he was on fire.”   God gets angry because God loves.  

I used to think about God’s wrath as something like electricity.  You go against the ways of electricity and you get shocked.  That’s God’s wrath.   But do you see how hopeless that all makes it?  All electricity can do is shock you if you mess with it the wrong way. Electricity can’t love you nor can it forgive you.   And God does both.  (C.S., Letters to Malcolm via Tim Keller)

So what about God’s anger so terrified Jesus?   What made this cup of wrath so hard to drink?  It wasn’t the anger, it was what happens when the anger falls away and only the evil remains.  That is the ultimate meaning of God’s wrath.   In the end, evil only leads to one place, to being completely and profoundly alone.  Why?   Because out of love, God honors our choices.  If that choice is to refuse God’s love, to refuse love at all, then God will honor that choice.   That is where evil brings you, to utter isolation.  That is hell.   It’s why it’s so painfully ridiculous, when I hear someone say.  “I want to go to hell.  All my friends will be there.”   Don’t you get it? There are no friends there.   

In that garden, Jesus looks into that hell.  He sees where even the anger of God falls away, where all that is left is utter isolation, a place where not even God can be found.  And he knows.  The only way to defeat evil, to rescue you and me from the horror of that place is to go there, to go into it all the way, to drink that cup all the way to the bottom; for Jesus to lose contact with the love that had been with him for literally forever, for God to lose even God, as strange as that sounds.   Compared to that agony, the cross was nothing. That was the cup Jesus yearned to walk away from. 

But he didn’t.    He saw the cost, and he decided.  I will pay it.  He experienced just a taste of the cup, and it nearly killed him.  But he said.   I will drink it.  I will drink it to the very bottom.  Why?  He loved you.   He loved you with a fierce anger that led him straight into hell.  He become utterly alone so you would never be.  He became utterly abandoned so that you would never be forsaken.  He lost even God, so that you might have God forever.   He surrendered it all for you.   And the more you see Jesus’ fierce and angry love for you, the more you will know.  I can surrender everything to him.   For no one could ever love me like he does.  No one.  

And when you suffer, when you face pain, you can surrender it to his fierce love, a love that suffered and died for you; a love that not even death can overcome.   So come to this table, this table of God’s fierce and angry love for you and give thanks.   Give thanks to the One who surrendered everything out of love for you.  Let us pray.