Message from Our Pastor
Excerpted from Pastor Hoffman's May 19th homily. Relevant text: Acts 11: 1-18
How many of you have a life axiom? A bit of wisdom by which you live, either sarcastically, or with true honesty.
I have two. I claim them for the truth they have born out in my own life experience. I’ll give you the second one first.
I have learned, and therefore try to never forget, that “it can always get worse.”
How many times have you heard someone say, “It can’t possibly get any worse?” Or, “What do I have to lose, it can’t possibly be worse than what I’m going through now.”
When I hear words like these, I want to step back and make room, because these persons have not read the book of Job – where Job discovers it can always get worse.
I’m not trying to be a wet blanket and I’m not a pessimist.
I see the glass as half-full. I believe in second chances, and that hope springs eternal. But to suggest that one knows the boundaries of anything – despair, hope, one’s stamina or breaking point, whether it can get worse or better – is to pretend to be God, even if unintentionally.
Job understands that it can always get worse, but he no longer understands why. The boundaries of Job’s theology have been erased by his bad experience, in spite of his goodness.
And isn’t this pretty much what God says to Job? “Who are you to set such boundaries? Did you draw the line in the sand saying to the sea, ‘You can go this far and no farther?’ I am God. I set the boundaries of creation and all life, and, as it turns out, death."
That’s why my second axiom is “never say never.”
I never expected to be a widow by age 45. Of course, I also never imagined that my husband would be 30 plus years my senior. I never imagined being called to Connecticut. Nor did I ever imagine my cat, J, would have a mini-him sister, Chloe. There are other “nevers” in my life to which I never thought I wouldn’t be able to say, “I never.”
As a pastor, I hear a lot of “I would nevers” and “I could nevers.” Often, they are spoken in a tone of judgment against someone crossing over that “never, ever” taboo line – the pregnant teen, the cheating spouse, the criminal, the gay couple, the person so depressed to attempt suicide, the woman who has an abortion, the man dressing as a woman.
This is the kind of “never” with which Peter protested when he was told in his dream to get up, kill and eat animals he had been taught were unclean, and should NEVER be eaten.
By now we are familiar enough with Peter that we can almost hear him, “Absolutely not, Lord, I will never allow any unclean thing to pass through my lips.”
And then when the heavenly voice says, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane,” I hear Peter saying, “Well, then give me one of each and I will feast.”
That day, Peter learned at least two things.
(1) Never say never.
(2) Do not put God in a box.
He would pass these learnings on to the other believers when he returned to Jerusalem, and encountered his colleagues own judgmental “how could you ever, we would never.”
Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step.
Step by step, this is how journeys are made, how friendships are forged, how lives are changed, how faith grows.
The disciples, even having been visited by the risen Christ and blessed by the Holy Spirit still did not know it all. Their faith had to grow, the box, which they believed contained God and salvation, had to expand.
Salvation belongs to our God and is offered freely to ALL.
“For God so loved the WORLD.”
“Go and make disciples of ALL nations.”
“Drink this cup…shed for YOU AND FOR ALL PEOPLE for the forgiveness of sins.”
As Peter said, who are we that we can hinder God? Who are we to say who can and can’t reside within heaven’s rooms? Who are we to judge, sift, or sort out?
But by the grace of God, we are the very ones we would cast out. But by the grace of God, we are the ones we would judge. But by the grace of God, we are the unimaginable “never.”
So, it is that our axiom as Lutherans is “by grace alone.”
By grace alone are we saved.
By grace alone are we forgiven and set free.
By grace alone does God love us without measure, beyond all bounds.
By grace alone are you his child forever and ever without end. Amen.