Monday, February 28, 2011

Lent is coming

Next Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. Lent is the time in the Christian year when we journey toward Holy Week, toward Jesus' last days, toward the cross, toward the silent days that follow and finally and ultimately toward the empty tomb.

It is a time of spiritual awareness; a time of spiritual awakening; a time during which we draw closer to God and allow God to draw closer to us.

It is a time of sacrifice; a time when we remind ourselves of the importance of saying, "No," to the things we want, and to remember how to say, "Yes," to Godly things. We practice this by giving up, sacrificing things in our lives, chocolate, Tv, our favorite video game, lunch, meat on Fridays, what ever we feel lead or our tradition suggests we should sacrifice. We then fill the void made by these mundane things with Godly things, Godly practices. If we give up things which cost money we give the money to further the Kingdom of God, or to help those less fortunate than our selves. If we give up something that takes time,we give that time over to God, we spend more time in prayer,reading the Bible or doing acts of charity.

The sacrifice we give also points us to the sacrifice Christ made on our behalf on the cross. Each time we feel the "pain," the "sting," the "desire" for these things we have sacrificed during this time, our minds are directed to the cross, to Christ's passion, to Christ's death. We are reminded that the small amount of discomfort or displeasure we experience on God's behalf for this short time in our lives could never measure up to that which Christ endured on ours. Our sacrifice always points us to his sacrifice, our pain to his pain, our discomfort to his. He suffered that someday all suffering might be put to an end. He died that we might live abundantly. But also he rose that we might one day be risen as well.

These are the thoughts and the themes of Lent which come to most ministers minds. I am sure Christians are looking forward to the beginning of Lent next week. I am sure they are anticipating this time of heighten spirituality and this time of spiritual discipline. And I too am looking forward to the beginning of the Lenten season. In fact the thought that a week from Wednesday we as the Church will have begun our Lenten journey just makes me all excited and giddy inside.

But I have a "dirty" little secret. I am not giddy and excited for fasting and praying and the spiritual journey which we as the Church are about to embark on together, although I am looking forward to all that too. I am excited and giddy because beginning Lent means we are 7 Sundays away from it being warm enough to possibility think of wearing a bright flowered dresses. We are 7 Sundays from daffodils and hyacinths. We are 7 Sundays from lightweight jackets and long walks in refreshing air. We are 7 weeks (well just a little less)from Spring!

When I see the journey of Lent in my minds eye it is a path down which we trod together. When we embark on it is snow covered, flanked on both sides by dark brown bare trees looking cold and stark in the crisp clear winter air, reaching up their stark branches to a greyish white sky. But you can look down the path and see that as we journey along it it will take us away from the snow. A little ways down, the snow will melt. The path itself will become wet and muddy. The clouds in the sky will part and the suns rays will begin to come through, cold at first but slowly warming. Soon there will be buds on the bare trees, and the first of the new grass poking through. Somewhere along the path I will get to kneel down and put my hand in the dark rich earth which has finally been released from its frozen prison, I will lift my hand to my face and breath deeply of the ripe freshness of the earth (to me this is the smell of Heaven on earth). As the path approaches the cross the crocuses are beginning to appear but the journey ends with an empty tomb surrounded by daffodils and hyacinths, willows with long green shoots and trees of all kinds bursting to bud. The is sun and grass and beginning of Spring and the earth bursting forth with light and life and love.

Easter may fall on different calendar days each year, but I know that Easter will always fall on the first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the Spring Equinox. No matter when Easter falls it is Spring.

Yes, the journey of Lent is just as much a journey toward Spring for me as it is a spiritual journey. This is my "dirty" little secret. Lent fills me with pangs of joy because Lent will take me to Spring. But I have decided recently that my "dirty" little secret is not as "dirty" as I once thought. The seasons, all the seasons of the earth are marked by the calendar we follow as the Body of Christ. The Season Easter is Spring and all things new. The long season of Pentecost is the long hot Summer with watermelon, lemonade, kids running free like wild animals free to roam and explore and grow, fall is moving toward All Saints Sunday and Christ the King. Winter begins with Advent and Christmas and stretches long and cold between Epiphany and Transfiguration Sunday.

I have lived 15 years marking church time with the Christian calendar, making my way through life marking Sundays with the events of the life of Christ and the life of the Church. Following the lectionary and the Christian calendar has resulted in me not just merely marking church life by the Christian Calendar, it has resulting me me not merely marking spiritual life by the Christian Calendar, but it has resulted in me marking all of life in this way. The physical seasons are marked by seasons of the Church.

When I became a pastor and choose to move my church through the year using the Christian calendar, my reason was that in this way the Church is marking time using the life of Christ instead of secular celebrations and observances. The Church should mark time using Holy days and Godly celebrations. The Church is not the world, we do not need to mark time the way the world does.

It is a glorious thing to walk with a Body of believers through weeks, seasons, and years marking time in this manner. It shapes us forms us and defines us. But what is more glorious than that shaping, forming and definition extending outside the walls of the church reaching its holy arms into every part of our life. So what is wrong with Lent not only being a spiritual journey but Lent being a journey from winters' cold darkness into Spring's warm glow? My dirty little secret is not dirty and should not be a secret, it could possibly be the whole point in the first place.

The Christian calendar is not simply about the Holy Days and seasons of the church. It is not about changing the colors of the altar cloth on the right Sundays. It is about marking time, our years, our lives with the life of Christ. When we get to the point where the seasons of the Church define our whole lives and not just our spiritual lives, then our lives are truly defined in a completely new way, they are defined by Christ, who Christ is and what Christ came to this earth to accomplish.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Romans 3:1-20 - Just Stop!

Romans 3:9-20

I was completely lost, well not really. I knew where I was. I could see the place that I was on the map. I could see the place I wanted to be on the map, but I could not see a clear way to get from where I was to where I wanted to be. So as I came to a corner, I saw a man standing there about to cross the street. I rolled down my window and said,”Hey can you help me?” The man smiled at me said, “Sure,” and came over to my window. I showed him my map and asked him how to get to Salis Crossing. He thought for a moment, cocked his head to the side, looked down at my map, turned the corner of his mouth up a little and then looked me straight in the face and said, “Well, ma’am you can’t get there from here.” I was aghast, what do you mean you can’t get there from here. I could see it on the map. It could not be more than 5-10 miles from where we were, but you couldn’t get there from here? I asked him what he meant. And he said, “well the bridge over in Gratton was out, so unless you wanted to go 15 miles back down highway 29 to Stoutan, and take route west 9 over to Old Barrytown and then come back south on Old Barrytown road and that could take you to Salis Crossing, but otherwise there was no way to get there from here.” I looked at the roads he had indicated on my map. I would seriously have to go nearly 30 miles out of my way to go to a place I could clearly see on my map, was only 5 miles away. I thanked the man, rolled up my window and the man headed on his way down the street shaking his head. As I made a right onto the road which would take me to highway 29 I too shook my head, there really was no way to get there from here.
“You can’t get there from here,” is at the heart of what Paul is saying to the people at the church in Rome, here in this passage. He begins with a question “Are we any better off?” And Paul answers by explaining that nobody is better off, both Jews and Greeks, i.e. non-Jews are under the power of sin. You may remember last week that Paul spent a good portion of Chapter two establishing that Jews did not have a privileged position simply because they had been given the law by God. The law could do nothing in and of itself. In essence it was not “free pass.” You all may notice that sometimes when I am preaching I ask the question I think you all are asking. I have to admit it is one of the oldest rhetorical tricks in the book, Paul uses it here. Paul asks on behalf of the people in the church Roman church, “Are we better off?’’ Paul then answers the question he had just asked on their behalf. “No, not at all.” Everyone is under sin. Nothing, not even the law of God frees you from being under sin.

Paul then goes on to elaborate, “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside.” Sin affects all of our lives. No one is immune, no one is free, no one’s life if lived apart from sinful actions. There is nothing we can do.

Nothing can separate us, nothing can stop us, and nothing can inhibit us from our sinful actions. We can work, we can strive, we can attempt to beat ourselves, our bodies, our wills into submission but it won’t work. And to many of us kill our selves attempting and those of us who strive in this manner will die trying and we will die failing.

We simply and truthfully are not righteous and nothing we are in and of ourselves makes us righteous. Being a Jew won’t do it, being a gentile won’t do it, being Christian won’t do. We are not born righteous. Righteous is not something we just are, nor it is something we can create in ourselves. There is nothing we can do, nothing. We can not live right enough. We can not go to enough church services; we can not read the Bible enough. We could live our whole lives without drinking one drop of alcohol, inhaling a single breath of tobacco, or letting even a single solitary unwholesome word pass through our lips or even enter our brain, but we would still remain completely and wholly unrighteous. You can’t train yourself to always react in a kind loving manner to everyone you meet, there are not enough cups of cold water you can give, you won’t speak kind words to everyone 100% of the time, you will not do all the right things at all the right times. You could sell everything you own, you could give up your house, your job and your life here and move to some remote region of the world and live completely selflessly, giving of yourself for them, helping to make their lives better, empowering them to rise above the limits of their situations. You could strive to break the backs of the oppressors. You could spend your whole life living to route out all the broken, hurtful, oppressive systems at play in our world. You could do all that and succeed in truly making this world a better place to work, and live but none of that would make you righteous. There is absolutely no way to live, act, speak in all the ways one would need to live, act and speak to make yourself righteous. There is nothing you can do, nothing you can say, nothing you can change on your own to make you worthy to stand before God.

Paul tells us that we are all silenced before God. We may strive and work to live our lives in a worthy righteous manner. We may look at what we have done, and how we have succeeded to live good lives but, “no human being will be justified,” will be seen as righteous or good, “in God’s sight.” Even knowing all the right things to do and say, all the right ways to live, to give to act, knowing all that does nothing more than to throw in stark relief how painfully and woefully we fail at even attempting to come close to being righteous. We may be able to convince people at work that we are good people, we may be able to appear righteous before the other members at church, we may even be able to fake it enough that our closest friends and family members come to believe that we have succeeded. It is possible that we may convince ourselves that we are doing right by God, by our loved ones and by all those around us, but when the rubber meets the road, when push comes to shove we know that we fail time and time again.

But we think we can do it. We think we can try. And we think that if we try, we just might succeed or perhaps that trying is good enough. It seems that is what most people tend to think after all. “I try to be a good person, and that is all that really matters, right?” “I’m a good person, I don’t murder or steal.” “I to my best and that should be good enough.” But our best is still failing. We might not murder or steal, but we cheat, or lie, or speak words we know are not kind or caring. Seriously in the grand scale of things I have very little more self control than my five year old, I am just more socially adept at knowing when it is socially acceptable to exhibit my failings.

When it comes to being righteous, to being even just “good,” the fact of the matter is that you can’t get there from here. Fallen human beings are just that, fallen, and being fallen means that we are fall far short of what it means to live right lives, we fall short of being kind, loving, and compassionate. We fail at what it means to be righteous any sense of the word. All of us are unrighteous, not just all the bad people, not just the drug dealers, murderers, adulterers and those who talk in at the theater, every last one of us is unrighteous. Paul wants us to be very certain of this fact. We are all in the same boat here. None of us can say we are better off. Not one of us can say there is something intrinsic to who we are or the particular way we live our life which makes us any better than any other person whom we might stand next to here on this earth, no matter who they are. And there is nothing we can do to make ourselves righteous. We can not be good enough. We can not try hard enough. It won’t work. We will still fail, we will still fall short. Our efforts, our strivings, will never get us where we want to be. None of us can get from where we are right now to being righteous. I can’t get there from here. You can’t there from here. There is simply no way that you or I can get ourselves from here to there.

This may sound like a pretty big bummer. This sermon may sound pretty much like a huge downer but it really is a freeing thing to figure out. You can’t try hard enough, you can’t strive long enough, you can’t do it. So stop trying. Stop working so hard. Stop worrying that you will be good enough, stop attempting to measure up. Just stop. Stop working yourself to the bone, stop killing yourself, stop beating yourself up when you realize you are failing. Stop and accept that your work, your effort, your tireless labor is not and will never be good enough and let it go, give in and let yourself off the hook. You are not good enough. You are not righteous. And your efforts to be so are and will always be sub-par.

Take a deep breath and breathe in the freedom of knowing that when you wake up tomorrow you don’t have to try, you can just look at God and admit what God already knows, that you can’t do it, and you give up trying. You can wake up tomorrow and see that God does not require you to run a race you are forever loosing. You can stop trying. And when you do so, don’t panic. You will not be failing at being a “good person” any more or less than you were when you were running as fast as you could in that hamster wheel of making yourself righteous trying get somewhere that the wheel simply could not get you.

Stopping is not easy. Letting go of trying is hard. It is a lesson which does not come naturally to us. We are breed, nurtured, raised and programmed at every turn of our life to believe that we can try hard enough, that we can be good enough, that we can do all the right things, say all the right things and live in the right way and doing so will make us the people we need to be, that doing so will make us the people God wants us to be. But doing, trying, striving, to be righteous is not something WE can do.

I remember the moment that this truth came to me. I was a religion major. I had striven to be a Godly person since I was 6. I had known since I was 13 that God had called me to be a pastor. I had spent all of my memorable life, trying to live right. I did everything I could do to be a good Christian. I was always afraid that I was doing was not good enough, that there would be something in my life which would be seen as less than holy in the eyes of other Christians or worse the eyes of God. I worked, I prayed, I strived, I read my Bible, I did all the things I was told to do. I had personal catalogues of how many times I had read through the Bible, as well as each book of the Bible. I had book where I kept track of when I did my devotions. I knew how many times in the last three years I had skipped them. I kept records of all sorts of things about my spiritual life, so I could somehow quantify and qualify how righteous I was, how holy I was, but no matter how much I worked, no matter how hard I strived, now matter how good I thought I was, I knew that I failed, in fact because of my lists I knew exactly how often I failed. I was a Christian, I loved God, I wanted to be the person God wanted me to be and I was going to do EVERYTHING within my power to make myself that person.

And here I was, I was a sophomore at ENC, I was in Dr. Braaten’s Old Testament class. I don’t remember what we were talking about, I don’t remember the context of the revelation at all other than the classroom and that it was bitter cold outside, but I remember the bright dawn that broke into my life when I realized, that I COULD NOT be good enough. My efforts were truly in vain. I was failing because there was nothing I could do but fail. No matter how hard I tried, I would always fail. If there was nothing to do but fail, then there was nothing I could do. It was this bright freeing moment, when I realized that I did not need to try because in trying I would always fail. I could not make myself righteous. Nothing I did would work. No matter how many times I banged my head on that wall, I would not find myself on the other side. All I would ever do was give myself a headache. Stopping trying, stopping the striving, stopping attempting to make myself something I am not, was and continues to be one of the hardest things I have ever done as a Christian, but it seriously was the best thing I have ever done as well.

Paul tells us that we are all under the power of sin. Paul tells us that none of us are better off. And Paul tells us there is nothing that WE can do about it. So there is nothing to do but give up. There is nothing we can do but throw the towel in and stop trying.

My guess is that for many of you this is perhaps the strangest thing you have ever heard in a sermon in your life. Stop trying to be righteous. Isn’t being a Christian about being righteous? Isn’t being a child of God about living the way that God calls us to live? Isn’t being in relationship with God about loving God and neighbor? And my answer is Yes. But, you can’t do it. You simply can’t. Give up at attempting to be a good person. Yes. Stop trying, stop working. And come back next week and hear how you can be what you can’t make yourself be.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lambert or a Wolf in a Sheepskin?

Romans 2:17-29
I am going to begin this morning by telling you two stories about sheep. And as we look at the text this morning I want you to keep these two images in your head. The first one is a little known Disney short called “Lambert”

On a warm night there was a herd of sheep asleep out in the pastures, when a stork came by carrying a number of brand new bundles for the expectant mama ewes who lay peacefully asleep. One by one the little furry bundles made their way their way among the ewes, curled up and fell asleep alongside of the warmth of their mama. In the morning each ewe was overjoyed to find their brand new baby lamb asleep by her side. All of them were perfect picture of white fluffy cuteness save one. One of them was not white at all, in fact he was not so much fluffy as he was fuzzy, and he was not what you would call white, he was more, well yellow, and in fact he did not resemble a lamb at all. His tail was too long and his feet were too fuzzy and the problem with his whiskers was that he had whiskers at all. The truth of the matter was the stork had made a horrible mistake and was not suppose to drop this particular baby off in the field at all, but instead was suppose to drop him in the African jungle because he was in fact not a lamb at all but really a lion cub. But his mama would hear none of this, he was her baby lamb and she loved him no matter how strange he was. She named him Lambert.

Lambert grew up alongside of the lambs in his herd. He learned to butt, he learned to Baa, and he learned to fear the wolf, who was always stalking the herd looking for to make a meal of an inattentive sheep or a wayward lamb who wandered to far from the herd. And as he grew his differences were apparent to his playmates. As he grew it was readily apparent that his tail was too long, his wool was too hairy, his color was too yellow and instead of a sturdy pair of horns he grew a long fluffy brown mane and sometimes when he attempted to baa it came out more like a roar and as children are wont to do, his playmates teased him and made fun of him for being different. Poor Lambert was the recipient of every childhood prank and the brunt of every mean spirited joke. Lambert often came home to his mother dejected and sad because he was not accepted among the other young rams.

Then one evening the wolf got brave and attacked the herd while they all peacefully slumbered on the hillside. He scattered the sheep, chasing one after another until he corned Lambert’s mother. Lambert was running scared just like the rest of the herd, trying to find a place to hide, to get away from the wolf, when he heard the frighten bleat of his mother as the wolf approached her. Lambert turned to see the wolf about to make a meal of his beloved mother and instead of running in fear, as he had been, he turned and placed himself between his mother and the hungry wolf and let out a might unsheeply roar. You can imagine the surprise of the wolf when instead of finding a dinner he found a raging lion and immediately turned and ran never to be seen by that particular herd again. From that time on Lambert, the sheepish lion was an accepted and even celebrated member of the herd. (This story is taken from the 1952 Disney short “Lambert the Sheepish Lion”)

The second story is one you have perhaps heard before. There once a wiley hungry wolf who no matter how hard he tried was unable to properly sneak up on a herd of sheep and get himself some dinner. Then one day when he went down to the river to get himself a drink and there on the river bank white and glistening was a sheep skin. The wolf saw it and immediately thought up a plan. He took the skin and fashioned himself a disguise to allow him to appear to be a sheep. The next day, he donned his new sheep clothes and went down unhindered among the flock and was able to lure a sheep away from the flock and make for himself a dinner of her so he was no longer hungry. He did this for quite sometime until the shepherd realized what he was doing, caught him and put an end to the wiley wolf.
We have two characters in these two stories, we have Lambert who looks like a lion (and quite frankly is a lion) but is truly a sheep in all ways that matter, and the wolf who looks like a sheep but is truly a wolf no matter what he appears to be. I want you to keep these two characters in mind as we begin to look at this passage this morning.

Paul in this passage is speaking to certain Jews or a stereotype of a Jew, who see that due to their relationship to God through the law have a privileged position among those who believe. Paul argues that having the law in and of itself does nothing. The law does not grant relationship with God. Paul points particularly to circumcision which is the physical sign of the covenant given by God to the people of Israel. Paul says the physical sign means nothing in and of itself unless it actually has meaning and bearing upon the life of the one who bears the sign. Neither the law nor the sign of the covenant will do anything for you in the end unless there is real inward change in your life. You can have the law but unless you live the law and allow the one who has given the law to you change who you are at your core than neither the law nor the outward sign of the covenant matter.
This understanding if the inefficacy of the law is not usually something we struggle with today as Christians. As far as I know none of us are of Jewish descent and then therefore do not see the Law of Moses as something given to us and our ancestors. We make no claims to salvation based on heritage or lineage. So it is easy to nod and smile understanding that the law and covenant given to the Israelites by God do not give Jews a special place in the eyes of God regardless of what their actual relationship with God is like.

The law itself is not under attack here though. God gave the law to the people. The Jewish people just failed to live up to the law and failed to share the relationship the law gave them to God with others. The Jewish people were given the law and chosen by God so that hey may be a nation of priest to all peoples of the earth, that is they were the ones who were suppose to bring the people of the nations around them into covenant relationship with God by teaching them about who God is. Even at the very beginning God called Abraham so that through him all the nations of the world may be blessed. But they did not reach out and share the love and relationship God gave to them with those of the nations around them. They instead, cut themselves off from those who did not believe. Instead of inviting those around them to come to know the one true God of the universe, they used their belief in God as a barrier which separated them from those who did not believe as they believed. Instead of allowing the law to embrace all peoples and to bring all peoples into an understanding of who God is, they used that law as boundary which set them apart and as a wall on which they stood and were able to look down on all the foolish pagans all around them who did not know to worship God and live the way God called for them to live. The law which was something which was suppose to light the way and give instruction as to what it meant to live as a people of God was instead a barrier and a wall allowing the people to see themselves as better and more privileged than others.

Paul is addressing a Jewish mindset in this passage but he is speaking to us non-the-less. We as modern non-Jewish Christians we struggle just as much with our versions of “the law” as the early Jewish Christians and the Israelite people before them. We might not see the Torah as a privilege we have that others do not nor do we live by it so that we can see ourselves as a cut above the rest of the world. But most of us whether we realize it or not live by a set of rules, which we see as the standard by which all Christians should live. We, like those to whom Paul is speaking here, stand on this standard and look down on all those who fall short of the standard. The standard does not need to be elaborate to be used this way. It does not need to include 600 laws derived and redacted upon from scripture like many first century Jews did, it can be something as simple as, “I don’t drink, smoke or chew and I don’t hang with those who do.” Paul is not speaking to the goodness or badness of drinking or smoking but what Paul is speaking to is the superiority held over others by those who live by these standards and way these standards are lorded over others.
Paul speaks to this kind of understanding of scripture and the standards which we see set up in scripture. Paul is not saying that living in a Godly manner is not something a Christian will do, but Paul is saying that having the standards of God and the ability to live by them is not what allows us to be in relationship with God.
Paul tells those in the church in Rome that you may have the law, you may know and understand what it means to live the way God wants you to live, you may think that you can lead and teach others but you can’t in reality you are blind and are foolish, unlearned and therefore not qualified to teach. You think you understand, but you don’t. You may know the law, you may be circumcised. You may have read the manual and know it backwards and forwards, you may know what a good Christian should do and not do, you may be baptized but all this is worthless. All these things are outward signs of the covenant but the covenant is not an outward thing. It is inward, it is spiritual it deals with a person’s heart, who they are at the core of their being. The covenant must be written on your heart. You must bear an inward sign of the covenant not just an outward sign of one.

The difference is the difference between Lambert and the wolf. The wolf had all the outward signs of being a sheep. He looked like a sheep, he smelled like a sheep, he may have been able to baa like a sheep but underneath, inside, he was still a wolf. He was not a sheep. Lambert on the other hand looked like a lion but really he was a sheep. He acted like a sheep, he lived with the sheep and deep down what mattered to him were the same things that mattered to the sheep. Lambert had the good of the sheep always at heart, but the wolf was actually a threat to the sheep. We need to be more like Lambert than the wolf.

The concern is who we are inwardly. We may be able to put on Christian clothing. We may be able to look like a Christian, we may say all the right things and do all the right things but unless our hearts and our inward lives are changed eventually who we are inwardly will come to bear. God is not calling for us to be able to do all the right things. God is not calling for us to be able to say all the right things. God is calling us into a relationship. God is calling us into a relationship which will forever change who we are and our lives, much like being married or having a child. It is the kind of relationship which completely changes how you live your life.
When you get married or have a child, what you can and can not do changes, your priorities change, and your whole life changes. When you get married, who you spend you time with changes. It changes what you can and can not do with other people. You have to consider the other person in almost everything you do from when you get up in the morning, where you put your clothes, and what you eat for dinner. When you are married and making decisions about all these things, you have to consider the other person. Preferences, wants and desires are all run through the filter of the relationship. Everything in your life is influenced by this other person who is now in your life.

Likewise when you have a child everything changes. Suddenly every aspect of your life is seen in light of this new little person in your life. It is truly amazing how such a small person changes every aspect of your life, from how much sleep you get, to when you eat and when you can go out with your friends. I can remember the first time this really struck me. Cidra was probably 3 months old. Mike was at fencing and I had a friend over to watch movies. We decided we wanted ice cream. We got our shoes on, grabbed our purses and were on our way out the front door when suddenly we both remembered that Cidra was asleep in the other room. We could not just run out and get ice cream; someone had to stay home with the baby. Still I do not live my life the same way I did before I had the girls. My life is completely changed.

It is the same when you choose to follow Jesus, when you choose to live the way God calls you to live it is not just a surface change. It is not simply about following a set of rules, coming to church, reading your Bible and doing and not doing all the right things. That would be like simply putting on a sheepskin and calling yourself a sheep. It is about entering into relationship with the God of the universe, learning to love God and be loved by God. This is not like any relationship you have ever been in and it is a love like none other, it is a relationship more profound than marriage and a love that changes your life greater than the love of a child. It is a relationship which changes you at your very core, it does not merely change what you do, what you say and how you live your day to day life, but it changes who you are at the very core of your being, relationship with God is able to make you something you are not. Lambert really was sheep, in all the ways that truly mattered. He lived like a sheep, he ate like a sheep, he cared for the things that sheep cared about, feared the very things a sheep feared, the relationship he had with his mother ultimately changed who he was at his core, he became something he would otherwise be unable to be.

As Christians is it easy to get caught up in the rules the standards and begin to think that they are what makes us who we are. The rules and the standard can be a sheepskin which we put on to allow us to look like a Christian, so that we can fit in among the other Christians. They can even become a sense of pride, a boundary we use to segregate ourselves from those around us, and a wall on which we stand from which we are able to look down up on all those lesser humans who refuse to love God the way we love God. But our love is not really a love for God but is a love for the rules and the standards which God has laid down which show us and guide and allow us to live the way God called us to live.

We are not called to follow as standard. We are not called to follow a set of rules. Christians do live differently than other people. There are things we do; there are things we don’t do. Our words, and our actions are different than many who do not choose to love God, it changes our entire way of living. But we are not called to love a way of living. We are called simply to love; to love God, and to love one another. And that love changes who we are, changes how we live, it changes everything. It is not the standard, the rules, the way of living that makes us who we are, it our love for God. Simply following the rules, living a lifestyle, changing your actions is like the outward sign of the covenant. Living a life which stems from our love for God is living out of the inward sign of the covenant. The difference between being the wolf or being Lambert is what was in each one’s heart, what was going on in the inside. Lambert was a sheep at heart and the wolf no matter how well dressed he was, was still a wolf at heart. As Christians we are to have the love of God at the heart of who we are, changing us and making us into the people of God.