Sunday, March 27, 2011

Homily: The Third Sunday in Lent [March 27, 2011] Christ Church Cranbrook

"Is the Lord among us or not?" This is what the Israelites ask Moses in this morning’s reading from the Old Testament. It is easy to understand why. Only part way into the Exodus journey out of Egypt, they find themselves in a desert without water. The adults are thirsty. The children and the animals are dying. They are beginning to question whether coming out of Egypt was such a good idea in the first place. True, they had been slaves back there, but at least they had had enough to eat and drink. They now question their leader’s judgment and competence. Moses, in turn, goes to God and asks for some help.

"Is the Lord among us or not” is not a stupid or faithless question. It is asked by anyone who is up against the trials and chances of life. I have asked that question myself at times, and I will bet that on occasion you have, too.

This past year I have become an evangelist for a great little book called The Memory Chalet, written by the British historian Tony Judt and published after his death from ALS (Lou Gherig’s disease) last year. Tony Judt was a brilliant political and historical thinker—best known as the author of two books, Postwar and Ill Fares the Land-- who grew up a Jew in England and taught in America. He contracted a particularly virulent form of ALS a few years ago and spent the last couple years of his life as he says “effectively quadriplegic,” confined to his bed and wheelchair. To keep his mind occupied during the long agonizing nights, he composed the several chapters of his autobiography one at a time in his head and then dictated them in the morning.

In The Memory Chalet Tony Judt describes the experience of being strapped in to bed, as he says, “trussed, myopic, and motionless like a modern-day mummy, alone in my corporeal prison, accompanied for the rest of the night only by my thoughts.” He cannot turn, scratch, or reposition himself. But as he begins to find a new use for this forced confinement, certain compensations do appear. As he tells us,

. . . I am occasionally astonished, when I reflect upon the matter, at how readily I seem to get through, night after night, week after week, month after month, what was once an almost insufferable nocturnal ordeal. I wake up in exactly the position, frame of mind, and state of suspended despair with which I went to bed—which in the circumstances might be thought a considerable achievement. [Tony Judt, “Night”, The Memory Chalet, p. 19]

Because “the satisfactions of compensation are notoriously fleeting,” Tony Judt does not want to romanticize his situation. As he says, “There is no saving grace in being confined to an iron suit, cold and unforgiving . . . Loss is loss, and nothing is gained by calling it by a nicer name. My nights are intriguing; but I could do without them.”

"Is the Lord among us or not?" A question asked by the Israelites, no doubt asked in the night by a British Jew suffering from ALS, asked by countless people in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the ongoing nuclear crisis there, and the persistence of bloodshed and tyranny in the Middle East. The Bible’s answer to this question, "Is the Lord among us or not?", appears in God’s swift response in our reading from Exodus [17.1-7] as Moses strikes the rock and water gushes forth to slake the Israelites’ thirst. That’s good news for them back in Bible times, but what about us? What about those suffering from pernicious diseases or natural disasters today? "Is the Lord among us or not?" And if so, how do we know?

Some version of that question is on the mind of the Samaritan woman who encounters Jesus at the well in this morning’s Gospel. This story from John’s Gospel takes place in the region of Samaria, the present-day West Bank, an area inhabited by the Samaritans, a people ethnically Jewish who had deal-breaking differences with the main line of the Jewish tradition over ritual and scripture. The Jews considered Samaritans unclean. That’s why the title of Luke’s parable, “The Good Samaritan,” is supposed to sound like a contradiction in terms.

What ties these two Bible readings this morning together is, of course, the image of water. In the Exodus reading, water gushes from the rock to quench the thirst of people in the desert. In the Gospel passage, Jesus offers the Samaritan woman not only regular water, but living water. "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." [John 4.13-14] In the alternating drought-flood climate of the Holy Land, water was of central importance. Water made life possible. It also could threaten to wipe it out. Jesus offers a symbolic kind of water that would be abundant but not superfluous, a source of life constant and ongoing and safe.

When the Samaritan woman and Jesus get into an exchange about this living water, the woman turns the conversation to the differences between Samaritans and Jews—we say our mountain is holy, you say your Temple is holy. Jesus answers her by saying, “. . . the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth." In other words, says Jesus, our ethnic and religious differences really don’t matter. “The hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” [John 4. 21-23]

"Is the Lord among us or not?" Moses answers that question from Jewish people by striking a rock and producing physical water. Jesus answers that question from a Samaritan woman by offering living water. All of us seek assurance of God’s continuing presence with us. For Moses the evidence of God’s presence is to point somewhere else. For Jesus the proof of God’s presence points to a miraculous gift. Both Jews and Samaritans looked to the Messiah, the anointed one, the Christ, the King, as the final assurance of God being with us. When the Samaritan woman mentions the Messiah, Jesus replies, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you."

What’s important for us to see is the way Jesus here opens up the whole question of God’s presence with us. Like the Israelites in the desert, the Samaritan woman suffered. They suffered a literal thirst, she a spiritual one. But the answer to both of their sufferings is the gift, not of a magic cure, but of personal power, of what we might call agency. This is what Moses and Jesus mean when they tell us God is present. God gives the Israelites water by empowering Moses to find it. Jesus gives the Samaritan woman living water by showing her that God meets her where she really is. Jesus’s display of knowledge of her personal history with the five husbands is not a parlor trick. It is a way of saying, “I know you. I accept you. I love you. And I offer you this water as who you are where you are here and now. You don’t have to go to a special place or become a different kind of person to get it. Here it is now. Take it. Whoever you are, wherever you are. It’s for you.”

One of the things you learn either studying theology or simply by living awhile is that suffering—figured in these stories as thirst, in our news accounts as death and dislocation in earthquake, flood, and war, in Tony Judt’s memoir as a struggle with a crippling disease—suffering is a constant in human experience. We are fragile, finite, beings. We are subject to forces larger than ourselves. The childlike part of us wants to believe in a God who can magically make suffering, pain, and loss go away. That childlike fantasy of a divine magician bears no resemblance to the God we meet in the Bible. That God feels our suffering as keenly as we do. And that God offers us healing and hope in what we call in Hebrew, “Shalom”: Peace, Justice, Healing, Community, Home. Shalom is the earthly water that gushed from Moses’s rock, the living water that Jesus offered the Samaritan woman at the well. In the Bible, water always stands for life, hope, and renewal. The depth and power and blessedness of life are available to you here, now, no questions asked.

From my description of it, you might think that Tony Judt’s The Memory Chalet would be a book about pain and sorrow and loss. In fact it’s exactly the opposite—funny, joyful, passionate, wistful, angry at times, a fully-alive account of what it was like to grow up as a Jew in England, ride trains all day as a young boy, get educated at Cambridge and in Paris, lived through the political and personal turmoil of student riots in France, social change in Eastern Europe, and late-life struggles with cancer and ALS. All through the memoir, Tony Judt tells us of a lifelong love for railroads and trains, and that story and that love sustain him as he lies still at night in the dark.

Toward the end of The Memory Chalet, Tony Judt describes a particular place that has meant so much to him, the tiny Swiss village of Mürren. As he describes it, we discover that he has found Shalom when he thinks of it. God has not miraculously cured him in the night. His newfound knowledge has not balanced out the real losses he has felt. But he has discovered an abiding presence that, for us followers of Jesus is just exactly like that living water on offer to the woman at the well. Here is how Tony Judt describes it:

Most places hold mixed memories. . . . How I remember them varies with my mood. But Mürren never changes. Nothing ever went wrong there.

There is a path of sorts that accompanies Mürren’s pocket railway. Halfway along, a little café—the only stop on the line—serves the usual run of Swiss wayside fare. Ahead, the mountain falls steeply away into the rift valley below. Behind, you can clamber up to the summer barns with the cows and goats and shepherds. Or you can just wait for the next train: punctual, predictable, and precise to the second. Nothing happens: it is the happiest place in the world. We cannot choose where we start out in life, but we may finish where we will. I know where I shall be: going nowhere in particular on that little train, forever and ever. [“Magic Mountains”, The Memory Chalet, p. 226]

"Is the Lord among us or not?" Moses found God’s water in a rock; the Samaritan woman in the person of Jesus; a bed-bound writer in images of a perfect place; you and I in table fellowship with each other and the crucified and risen Jesus. This Lent, let us take God’s living water, offered freely to all, wherever we may find it. Amen.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Homily: The Second Sunday in Lent [March 20, 2011] Christ Church Cranbrook

For the past couple of weeks, Kathy and I have been ruminating on an essay that appeared in the New York Times Magazine two Sundays ago [Justin Horner, “The Tire Iron and the Tamale”, March 6, 2011, p. 54] In this piece, a graphic designer named Justin Horner tells the story of what happened when he had a blowout on the freeway in Oregon. He was driving a friend’s Jeep, and it turned out that the car did not have a jack. In Horner’s own words,

I was on the side of the road for close to three hours with my friend’s big Jeep. I put signs in the windows, big signs that said, “NEED A JACK,” and offered money. Nothing.

He was about to give up and start hitchhiking when a van carrying a family of four stopped and the driver got out of the car, offering to help. The driver was a Mexican immigrant migrant worker who spoke no English.

As the story unfolds, we learn that the man had a jack that was too small for the Jeep. He solved this problem by sawing a log from the roadside brush to make a brace for the jack. When the narrator tried to take the tire off, he broke the tire iron. The man’s wife then drove into a nearby town and bought a new one. Here’s how Justin Horner tells the rest of the story:

I tried to put a 20 in the man’s hand, but he wouldn’t take it, so instead I went up to the van and gave it to his wife as quietly as I could. I thanked them up one side and down the other. I asked the little girl where they lived, thinking maybe I’d send them a gift for being so awesome. She said they lived in Mexico. They were in Oregon so Mommy and Daddy could pick cherries for the next few weeks. Then they were going to pick peaches, then go back home.

After I said my goodbyes and started walking back to the Jeep, the girl called out and asked if I’d had lunch. When I told her no, she ran up and handed me a tamale.

. . . I thanked them again and walked back to my car and opened the foil on the tamale (I was starving by this point), and what did I find inside? My $20 bill! I whirled around and ran to the van and the guy rolled down his window. He saw the $20 in my hand and just started shaking his head no. All I could think to say was, “Por favor, por favor, por favor,” with my hands out. The guy just smiled and, with what looked like great concentration, said in English: “Today you, tomorrow me.”

This is a powerful and moving account. A man has been helped in a jam, not by the respectable people who pass him by but by a poor migrant worker family. And perhaps the most important part of it comes next. The narrator says, “I sat in my car eating the best tamale I’ve ever had, and I just started to cry. It had been a rough year; nothing seemed to break my way. This was so out of left field I just couldn’t handle it.” As he reflects on it, though, he realizes that this act of kindness demands some kind of ongoing response from him. He concludes by saying,

In the several months since then I’ve changed a couple of tires, given a few rides to gas stations and once drove 50 miles out of my way to get a girl to an airport. I won’t accept money. But every time I’m able to help, I feel as if I’m putting something in the bank.

Justin Horner’s story of being helped on the road in a surprising and generous way is like the two Bible stories we heard this morning: it’s the story of a new beginning, a second chance. Because the help he received called him into a new way of being towards others, the narrator experiences more than an act of random kindness. He is personally transformed. His life was going one way, but then he was dramatically addressed by the universe, and this interaction changed him and his behavior forever.

This, with some slight variations, is what happens to two of our biblical figures this morning. In our Old Testament reading, God picks the Chaldean nomad Abram for no obvious reason at all and tells him this:

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you . . . and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”*

Why Abram? Why this move to a new land? Why this call for a nomadic tribesman to give up his two most precious connections—to his kindred and to his country? None of this is explained. Later, of course, Abram’s name will be changed to Abraham, and his wife Sarai’s name to Sarah. They will become the primordial ancestors of Israel. But for now: God addresses them and they respond in faithful obedience. The rest is history.

And in our Gospel for today, Nicodemus, a Pharisee and leader of the Jews, comes to Jesus by night clearly intrigued by Jesus and the community he has gathered around him, though not able to say so publicly. Jesus tells him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." Nicodemus says to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?" In this exchange, Nicodemus sounds like the Homer Simpson of the New Testament: he doesn’t have a clue. Jesus patiently responds that he is talking not about a literal but about a spiritual rebirth. In Abram’s story, we had a divine demand followed by immediate, unquestioning obedience. In the Nicodemus account, we follow an interchange where it’s clear that this Pharisee just doesn’t get it.

But that is not the end of the Nicodemus story. We meet him twice more in John’s Gospel: in chapter 7, he is the one who prevents the Temple police from arresting Jesus during the feast of Tabernacles. In chapter 19 he assists Joseph of Arimathea in preparing Jesus’s body for burial. Over the course of the Gospel narrative, Nicodemus evolves from a curious (if thick) inquirer into a tacit ally and finally into a devoted follower. It’s a different trajectory of faith and action than the one followed by Abraham, but it has a depth and integrity of its own.

Abraam was seventy-five years old when Yahweh told him to pick up and go to a new place. Nicodemus was an adult man with a defined civic and religious role when he cautiously came to Jesus by night. I don’t know how old our Portland graphic designer was when the Jeep broke down, but he clearly already had a life before his encounter with the migrant family on the freeway. Though they all might not have put it this way, what we’re dealing with this morning is stories of three people who have been changed by encounters with God. In the first story, Abram encounters God directly. In the second, Nicodemus meets God in the person of Jesus. In the third, God is revealed in the compassionate outreach of another human being. What do these stories have to say to us?

The season we observe now—Lent—is organized around the idea of transformation. For centuries Christians observed it primarily as a penitential time, but in its origins it was about much more than that. In the earliest days of Christianity, Lent was a time when converts to the faith were prepared for Baptism at Easter. It was also a time when those who had fallen away during persecutions were allowed to repent and return to the church. Gradually, this penitential aspect of the season took over. But in its deepest meaning we observe Lent not for its own sake but for the sake of Easter. We engage in self-examination, ministry, study, and self-denial as ways of getting ourselves in personal, psychic, spiritual shape to be ready to take in the depth and grace and blessing of the resurrection.

And it is Easter—the feast of the resurrection of Jesus—that both Christianity and this season are organized around. In raising Jesus from death to life, God has transformed not only Jesus but us and our world. We Christians often talk about resurrection as if it’s primarily about eternal life, but it’s about more than that. Resurrection is also about transformation here and now. In raising Jesus, God will say yes to Jesus and the way he lived. In raising Jesus, God will proclaim that death, the thing we humans fear most, has no final power over us and those we love. In raising Jesus, God will announce that you and I are free now to live lives of fearless love and compassionate generosity.

Seen in this way, Easter will be for us not only the end of the Lenten process. Easter will be for us an offering of personal, social, cosmic transformation. It will be our Abram, Nicodemus, broken-down-Jeep-on-the-freeway moment. We often treat Lent as if it’s like hitting yourself over the head with a hammer: it feels so good when you stop. But Lent is not about punishing yourself so that Easter will feel like blessed relief. Lent is about preparing a place, a space, a zone in your life and heart and mind that you will be able to take in the radical offer that God will be making to you at Easter. You and I are like Abram before the call, Nicodemus before he went to see Jesus, the guy in the Jeep before it broke down. We are in the midst of something deep and gracious and good and on the verge of something better. What shape will God’s address to you and me take? How will we know when we have been met and chosen and called into new life?

There is no one size fits all answer to that question. Some of us will be met in the midst of Lenten self-denial, in taking in how it is possible to live abundantly without the things we thought we had to have. Others will be met as we take on a ministry of service, of outreach—feeding, tutoring, visiting someone who is sick or lonely or in jail or otherwise up against it. Still others will be met as we delve more deeply into our interior lives and see the signs of God’s activity in our deepest fears and highest aspirations. Whoever you are and wherever you are on the journey of faith: God is coming to find you. Whatever you’ve done, whatever you’ve failed to do: God is coming to find you. However your past has been, as unclear as your future appears: God is coming to find you. You are not lost. Where God is present, you are in the process of being found. This Lent, may our time together, our time alone, our time with others in the world prepare us to respond in joy and readiness when we we, like our biblical heroes, like the guy in the Jeep, have been found. Amen.

Here is the link to Justin Horner's essay:

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Homily: The Last Sunday after the Epiphany [March 6, 2011] Christ Church Cranbrook

I wouldn’t say it was the main reason, but one of the powerful attractions about coming back to Christ Church after so many years away was my strong memory of the beauty of the Cranbrook grounds. One of the curious things about living in a beautiful place is that, as time passes and the place becomes more familiar, you don’t see it in the way you first did. A monk friend of mine who is also a painter told me that he began painting when, after he had lived in Peru for several years, he realized that he no longer saw the rather large mountain range around him, the Andes. When he took up painting he had to look carefully at what he was trying to represent. So then he did see those mountains again. For him painting became a new way into really seeing.

Today’s Gospel—Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration—is about seeing. Amid the ream of inserts in your bulletin this morning, I have placed a small reproduction of a painting I saw last week in Chicago at the Art Institute. The painting is by the American artist John Marin, and it is one of the featured items in the exhibit, “John Marin’s Watercolors: A Medium for Modernism”. I just happened into this exhibit as Kathy and I were visiting the museum during a break from a conference, and I learned a lot of things I hadn’t known before. I did not know that John Marin was, in the period between the two World Wars, the most famous artist in America. I did not know that he was part of the group gathered around Alfred Steiglitz, Georgia O’Keefe, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, and others. I did not know he was the first American artist to have a retrospective of his work at the Museum of Modern Art (in 1936). Here was a major painter I had never heard of. What a surprise!

And what a delight! It took quite a while to see the over 100 watercolors in the exhibition. They cover Marin’s time in Paris, New York, Taos, New Mexico, and Deer Isle, Maine. The painting I’ve reproduced this morning is one of Marin’s Maine paintings, and it is titled, simply, “The Pine Tree, Small Point, Maine” (1926). It’s one of many watercolors in the exhibit that represent pine trees. Some, like this one, show a tree against the background of water; others show pines against rocks or snow. All the pine tree paintings, like this one, hover in the tension between representation and abstraction. I left the exhibit with images of abstract pine tree shapes almost burned into my mind’s eye.

Now here’s the interesting thing about these pictures: when I returned here after the conference, I went across the street to go running. And I don’t know if it was because of the snow or the lack of competing foliage, but I think it was primarily because of John Marin’s paintings that I was able, for the first time, really to see the pine trees on the Cranbrook campus. Prior to the experience of the Marin exhibit they had been for me only a soothing green background, kind of like a tamarack screen saver. Now, startlingly, I was intensely aware of the shapes outlined by the trees and their branches. It was as if I had never seen them before.

Hold that thought.

Today is the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, the day on which the manifestation of God’s glory culminates in the Transfiguration of Jesus on top of a high mountain. Standing before Peter, James, and John, Jesus is revealed to them in a new way.

Here’s how Matthew describes it: “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.” When Peter and James and John look at Jesus, they now see two things about him they had not noticed before. One is his radiance. He glows with a holy brightness. The second is his stature. He is accompanied by Moses and Elijah, the two great prophets of Israelite faith. He is no longer just the teacher and healer they thought he was. He is something more.

Now back to the pine trees. When I looked at the living trees around here after I had seen the abstract forms of them in John Marin’s paintings, you might say that they were transfigured for me. I had not seen them before in quite the same way. Before they were kind of like visual Muzak, but now they were individually unique and important. In the same way, you could say that Peter and James and John had not really seen Jesus before, but now when they looked at him in this moment they saw who he really was. As a kind of presto-chango miracle, the Transfiguration story has always meant very little to me. But as a story about the opening up of our perception of the holy, it now means everything. I believe it because I have seen it.

And I haven’t just seen it around pine trees. I’ve seen it when somebody does or says something that shows there is a grace and depth to them that you hadn’t quite noticed before. In the same way that we can take natural beauty for granted, we can become numb to the human beauty around us, turning people into visual Muzak as well. On the mountain with Jesus, Peter, James and John were opened up to the fullness of who he really was. It was their vision and experience of him that was truly transfigured.

What gives this story such credibility to me is what happens next: “Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’” In this as in so many ways, Peter stands for you and me. He has just had an experience of the holy, and what does he do? He tries to encase it in plastic, turn it into a theological theme park. Human beings cannot help themselves: we take a primary experience of the divine and try to tame and domesticate it, to make it regular, official, and safe. As Bishop Lee of Chicago said at the conference I attended last week, he once heard a priest say, “If you want to avoid God, go to church. If you’re really serious about it, go to seminary.” Whenever we institutionalize God we are trying to bottle lightning. The way to be open to God is not to perma-plaque the experience. The way to be open to God is continually let God get your attention.

When Peter and James and John saw Jesus transfigured on the mountain they “got” who Jesus really was. And if they didn’t get it at first, their perception was aided by the divine voice: , "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" They saw, at least for a moment, something new and true about Jesus, themselves, and God. They saw that this person they were traveling with was holy in a new way: it wasn’t just that he was wise or could do works of power, it was that in his very being he manifested God. And that bright shininess suggested something not only about Jesus but about God. If Jesus was loving and healing and accepting and compassionate, perhaps God was, too. It wasn’t only their understanding of Jesus that was transfigured; it was their understanding of God. The only way to understand the One at the center of the universe was to see that One as being like the healing teacher they accompanied around Galilee. After Jesus, it is impossible to see God primarily as a powerful divine monarch. After Jesus, we must understand God as our loving, embracing, healing companion.

What happened to Peter and James and John on the high mountain with Jesus and Moses and Elijah is a parable of you and me and the life of faith. In the same way that a painting or a poem or a piece of music can open you up to perceive yourself or someone else or the world around you in a new way, so the whole point of this churchgoing enterprise is to open you up to the constant embracing and supporting presence of God in your world and work, in your relationships, in your interior life. God is constantly trying to get our attention. Sometimes God gets our attention dramatically, like being hit in the head by life with a 2 x 4. At other times, God gets our attention by opening us up to the grace and beauty of what is all around us. This is what the Transfiguration is about, and we come to church not because this is the place we know where lightning will strike but because we hope that what happens here will open us up to seeing the lightning that is all around us, already there.

This Wednesday we begin the season of Lent, a forty-day sojourn toward Easter. Lent is many things, but at its heart, I believe, it is a season of paring away distractions so that you and I may have our experience of God transfigured. We give things up in order to open up a space for God. We take things on in order to see God in those we serve. We study in order to allow God to move from the margins to the center of our consciousness.

And that leads me to one more reason I wanted to share John Marin’s painting, “The Pine Tree, Small Point, Maine” with you. It is, at least for me, an emblem of the way God wants us to see the world with new eyes, to be open to the grace and beauty and depth of what is all around us. But it is also a representation of the beauty of God’s created world in and of itself. I don’t have much Lenten advice to give you. It’s really your decision what you are going to give up or take on or study, and I hope that you will find something in Christ Church’s Lenten offerings to help you use this season to open yourself to God in your life.

But John Marin’s painting does remind me of the one piece of Lenten advice I do have: try, in this season, to spend some part of each day outside. So much of our lives is lived artificially, in spaces made and shaped by our human drives and desires. The world we have made is highly artificial, and it can become removed from the actual stuff of life. Nature grounds us in what is real. And if there is any transfigured truth that the life of faith has to tell us, it is that what is real is trustworthy. When we live our lives entirely indoors we become ensnared in a web of human making, and we cease to see things as they are. When we step outside, if only for a moment, we are face to face with not only nature but with the One we meet in and through it.

Peter and James and John did not have their understanding transfigured looking at a TV set, a laptop, or a Blackberry. They had their vision and hearing opened up as they went for a walk up a mountain with Jesus. If you use the next 40 days to walk both inside and outside with Jesus, you won’t bottle lightning, but you will have your vision and hearing transfigured, and you will be open to the depth and beauty and grace and blessing of what God holds out before you, always and everywhere, especially here and now. Amen.