We say a lot of things as the Church. Many of the things we say are important. The writer of I John reminds us, however, that “we should love not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” (I John 3:18) When we speak words of welcome, forgiveness, faith they are truths that are meant for all. Love however, is a particularity; something we do to and for the person in front of us. As baptism proclaims love to a particular person, and the wine and bread are given “for you” to individuals, love is enacted for each. A sign on the church that says, “all are welcome” is meaningless to those seeking welcome because it does not address the “each.” A theological statement that says the poor should be fed bears no weight until assistance is given to fill a hungry belly. Welcome is for all. Love is for each.
When most of us think about spiritual things, we think of self-improvement, or happiness, or success. Faith should lead to joy and glory. Religion should help us avoid the “bad things” in life. The scriptural witness however, doesn’t support these notions. Instead, Jesus invites Peter to follow to the cross. Peter doesn’t want to go. Psalm 22 begins with the words, “My God, my God; why have you forsaken me?” – the dying words of Jesus. The psalm answers this lament by pivoting to praise and the promises of God from this heart-wrenching lament. In the midst of our suffering, we don’t reject God, but embrace God all the more.
When we hear stories about Jesus casting out demons, I’m not sure we know quite what to do with them. Is this possession as illustrated by Hollywood, complete with spinning heads, shaking beds, and evil voices? Or is it just an ancient way of pointing out what they did not understand – mental illness, convulsions or some other such disease? Those kinds of questions obscure two basic truths of these strange stories. First, evil exists and if we are not “possessed” by the Holy Spirit, we are likely to be possessed by something unholy. When I see a world full of violence, abuse, horrific stories of awful deeds done by humans to humans, even children, I find myself asking “What possesses people to do these things?” And there it is – something that drives us to rob life, liberty and peace from others takes our identity as holy people away. Second, fascination with what is unholy in these stories often leads us away from the central truth – God in Christ, revealed in Jesus has power to cast out the unholy and grant peace and life in its place.
“Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God,” Jesus says. (Matthew 22:21) A coin became a prop in this story and it bore the image of Caesar. So, in a way, it belonged to Caesar. The question then becomes, what bears the image of God? Well, according to Genesis 1:26, we do! Imagine what the world might be like if we all gave to God what belonged to God – gave ourselves without reservation. Scripture is full of the miraculous ways God takes what we give and turns into something more than we could imagine. Remember the two fish and five loaves? Remember one human death on a cross? What if you gave to God what belonged to God?