One of the first conversations that God has with humanity is this one in the garden. It’s about what the relationship between God and the creation God has made is going to look like. This conversation is had again and again and again. God keeps showing up and reminding us that God loves us so very much God will be with us through anything and everything. We will never be left alone.
This conversation has to be had again and again and again because we, humanity, have poor and short memories and we seem to forget this conversation. Or, for whatever reason, we become suspicious. We think that God has let us down, that God has taken off on vacation somewhere, and that this promise is not being lived up to. We do this poor logic of “Well if you’re not here for me then I’m not here for you. I’m going to go elsewhere and sort it out myself.” This goes badly. Every time. And when it goes badly, God shows up and reminds us that God is present. Perhaps not with us in the way we thought God would be or the way we thought God should be, but God is there.
About 2,000 years ago God decided to be with humanity in an incredible new way. In the Incarnation. God took on human flesh, lived among us as one of us, and removed any opportunity for anyone to claim that God did not know them. “God doesn’t know my life. God doesn’t know how I feel. God has never been hungry or tired or sad or had to go to the bathroom.” God has lived all of those things in Jesus Christ. God is with us in everything.
God, always with us in everything, is also always calling us. “Come. I am doing this thing and I would like you to be there. I would like to spend the time with you. I would like us to love one another. I would like your cooperation.” I have said more than once that this, for me, is the most confusing thing about God. That God would continue to return to humanity, saying “I would like you to help.” It’s like when my cat tries to help me with anything. Whatever it is gets broken or knocked off the counter or otherwise made into catastrophe. Such help. Nevertheless, here we are. God comes back again and again and invites our help and cooperation. Humanity agrees and gets on board for a little while until we become interested in or distracted by something else and we fall away. We start doing our own thing. We realize we’ve wandered from God, so we return and God is still waiting and still inviting us to cooperate, to be together with God. Two steps forward, one step back. We do it again and again and again.
Along the way, whenever God says “Come with me,” there are always these conversations about relationships and how this will work out. Whether it’s the conversations that we hear in scripture, whether it’s the conversations that we have in our own lives, or whether it’s the conversations in the stories from the tradition of our faith. We have people who say “Oh, yes God, I’d like to go with you, but.” Sometimes the "but" is an unwillingness to give away their possessions and take up the cross and follow Jesus. Sometimes the but is a promise to follow later, after a few more things at home are tied up and put away. These are hard things. But the work God is calling us to help with is happening now, even as we dither about whether to get on board.
I don’t know about any of you, but I’ve had plenty of conversations with God where I have said “That sounds like a great idea but I’m not sure that I want to do that right now.” God is much more patient than we are and hopes that we will come around, eventually. One of the recurring themes, the signs that we are on the path with God is the idea of healing. Restoring what is broken to wholeness. Everywhere Jesus goes, people hear the Good News. They hear from Jesus, “Your life is broken because you are sick, you are oppressed, you are living in your land occupied by a foreign power, you are poor, you are hungry, you are ill. I am here to make these things better. To restore what is broken to a whole.”
In the Passion reading today, Jesus’s friend Peter tries to do a good thing by defending Jesus and cutting a man’s ear off. Jesus chides Peter for the unnecessary violence and heals the man, restoring his ear because that man should not have been made less than whole. We’ve heard the stories of Jesus’s healing miracles: Healing bodies, healing relationships, healing communities. All the way through the Gospel stories. When humanity and the Church are at their best, we see those miracles happen today in the world. We see broken relationships restored, we see sick people get better, we see hungry people get fed, and we see God alive and working in the world. We see these miracles as possible and even happening around us and we still make excuses about why we’re not following God. “Oh, I would like to follow God more closely, but I have all of this stuff I have to bring with me.” I don’t mean stuff like too many pairs of shoes. I mean all of the baggage like grief, all of the anger, all of the sadness. We convince ourselves that God doesn’t want that. That we can’t bring it with us because it’s not the right stuff for this journey.
On the contrary, God would love to see your grief, your anger, your sadness, and all those things. If you don’t show those things to God, God cannot help you to heal them. It’s like saying “I can’t go to the doctor with my broken leg; it’s just going to get in the way of the appointment if I’m hobbling around.” Of course, we know that if you don’t take your broken leg to the doctor, you can’t get it fixed. When God says “Come, come follow me. Come to the table. Come listen to the Word.” God means that you should bring your whole self, all of yourself and lay it out on the table. God will do the hard work of healing the things that you bring. Just bring them. Show up. Be there when called.
Jesus keeps calling people and saying “If you come and follow me, we will live this new way of being with God, we will understand each other and God better.” There’s a group who get it: The disciples, the people close to Jesus, the crowd that follows him to hear his teaching. Some of them believe what people say about Jesus being the Messiah, being God. Others believe that this is their best chance to get rid of the Romans and have their old lives back. Either way, there’s a crowd who are buying some part of what Jesus is saying.
There’s another crowd, a very important and powerful crowd, who are fearful of what Jesus is saying. They’re fearful because if what Jesus is saying is true, then it means that the power, wealth, and control that they have is in danger. Their comfort is in danger. This is bad news for them. They would like to remain wealthy and powerful and comfortable and in control. The tension that we feel today, beginning with Jesus riding into Jerusalem heralded with songs and palms—palms which, in Jesus’s world, are a sign of victory—and cheering on the Saviour and the Messiah is met with a group who believe that something needs to be done about this situation. These people are off their rockers and this Jesus character is stirring up a great deal of trouble.
Still, knowing that the people he is talking to are fearful and angry and want to do him harm, Jesus says “Come, follow me.” They accuse him of claiming to be the King of the Jews, of being the Messiah. Jesus responds with “Well, you say that I am.” As if to say that if they think he is any of those things, then why are they having this conversation? If they are persuaded that I am the Son of God, then what’s this arrest and interrogation about? They are fearful that Jesus continues to extend the invitation. An invitation to bring all of that fear and anger and upset and anxiety and have it healed.
Humanity, in the face of that invitation, responds with the absolute worst that it can muster. We show up to Jesus’s call filled with bigotry and hatred and prejudice and fear and anxiety and injustice and selfishness and brutality and violence and murder. God accepts humanity's offering. This nasty, awful bundle of horror God regards and chooses to accept, even if it means God will suffer for it. Rather than looking at humanity’s offering of all of the worst that we are capable of and turning it away, God chooses to accept it and turn it from horror to beauty.
Hanging on the cross, God does not get angry. God does not leave us. In fact, while hanging there, God is busy forgiving the people who bring themselves to him, even the thief hanging beside him who says “Can I go where you are going? Can I come with you?” This is God’s choice of response to all of that awfulness that we think we can’t share with God or that we think we shouldn’t share with God.
We go so far after Jesus breathes his last as to stick him with a spear just to make sure that he’s really dead. The whole preceding series of tortures and humiliations weren’t thorough enough. We need to be absolutely certain we did the worst we could. And out of Jesus’s side, where the spear pierces him, flow water and blood. Baptism and communion. Grace and mercy. The more awful stuff you can bring to God, the more love God will find to cover it and wash it away.
It’s not a fun or easy process, all of this healing. It is hard work. But God is willing to walk through it with each and everyone one of us. God’s promise has never been that following God will make everything fun and rosy and lovely and that there will never be sadness ever again. What God has always been willing to do is acknowledge that this life can be hard and promise to share it with us. When we are sad and hurt and angry, God promises to be right there, with us. We will live through none of it alone. If people drag us to execution, hang us up in public, mock us, and kill us, God will go there with us.
God offers all of this love entirely for love’s own sake. God needs nothing from us and certainly gets nothing in this deal. God hopes to receive our love and does so happily when we offer it. But there’s no reward for God. No golden crown or blue ribbon for loving humanity. God loves us this much for love’s own sake.
Baptism calls us and reminds us that we must live like Christ, work like Christ, talk like Christ, and die like Christ. This does not mean that you need to get yourself crucified, but it does mean that you need to bring everything to the table. The God who walks with us will give us the wisdom and the grace and the courage to love the world, not for our own sake, but for God’s sake. For love’s sake. That we would pour grace and mercy into every relationship we have. That we would take the broken and restore it to wholeness. And pray that when others look at us, they might see a glimpse of Christ’s love pouring through us into the world.