Cultivating Change

March 24, 2019

Luke 13:1-9

Once upon a time a psychology professor walked around on a stage while teaching stress management principles to an auditorium filled with students.  As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the typical “glass half empty or glass half full” question.  Instead, with a smile on her face, the professor asked, “How heavy is this glass of water I’m holding?”

Students shouted out answers ranging from eight ounces to a couple pounds.

She replied, “From my perspective, the absolute weight of this glass doesn’t matter.  It all depends on how long I hold it.  If I hold it for a minute or two, it’s fairly light.  If I hold it for an hour straight, its weight might make my arm ache a little.  If I hold it for a day straight, my arm will likely cramp up and feel completely numb and paralyzed, forcing me to drop the glass to the floor.  In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it feels to me.”

As the class shook their heads in agreement, she continued, “Your stresses and worries in life are very much like this glass of water.  Think about them for a while and nothing happens.  Think about them a bit longer and you begin to ache a little.  Think about them all day long, and you will feel completely numb and paralyzed – incapable of doing anything else until you drop them.”[1]

Quite often, when we hear the word change, we get that uneasy feeling in our bodies. We become tense, or possibly get butterflies wondering what that “change” may be. We get caught up in our stress and worries yet fear change and what that may mean. However, Jesus calls us to a life of change. He does not want us to be stagnant in our practices and wants us to encounter the triune God in new and exciting ways every day.

In the gospel lesson for this Sunday, Jesus calls us to change. Twice in the gospel lesson Jesus calls for those that are listening to him to repent. He is simply telling them to seek forgiveness and to return to God. He is well aware of the sins that they partake in every day and his call for them to repent is done with great love so that they will come to know the love of God which is greater than anything else. To repent though, means to change. Not only are they to return to God and seek the forgiveness that comes in repenting, they are also called to stop sinning. They are called to change their life and start following Jesus.

He follows this call to repentance with the parable of the barren fig tree. Its placement seems odd, yet let’s see how we can tie the call to change with the fig tree. There are many times in our lives that we attempt something new and it simply does not work. We try to change and then we wonder if it truly made a difference. Just maybe, we are not giving it enough time to germinate. To begin growing. Just maybe, God is still at work and we must be patient. Remember, God does not work on our timeframe.

I recall one such time in my first congregation when I got frustrated and did not let a new ministry germinate. I sensed God calling me to start a new cross-generational worship that seemed to be almost dead on arrival when it kicked off. Don’t get me wrong, there were people that showed up. However, I was disappointed, because my expectations were not met. I expected something grand and glorious. However, after three months in, I decided to pull the plug. I was not much different from the man that owned the fig tree and wanted to cut it down because it was not bearing any fruit.

How quick we are to cut off those things that we see no purpose or production coming out of. Isn’t this the practice in the business world today? It is all about the bottom line. In this season of Lent, we talk about letting go, but also, we must contemplate when is the proper timing to let go of something. We must discern it and ask ourselves, is it something that is pulling us further from God, or is it something that we can simply let be and see if life will come out of it?

When we are called to change, that does mean letting go. Letting go of the way that we used to be. Letting go of something that draws us away from God. Letting go of something that may be holding us back. It could be thoughts, fears, expectations, practices. The call to change brings us to a different point in our lives. It could be scary. It could come with anxiety. It could come with questions.

In the parable of the fig tree, the gardener tells the owner of the tree to give it some more time before coming and looking for fruit. Did you know that it could take up to six years for a fig tree to bear fruit? Perhaps it has not had the proper nutrients fed to it. Perhaps there have been other factors that have led to it not producing. Perhaps, it just needs time to germinate and to absorb everything around it.

Change is very much the same. It takes time. Yes, you may see some immediate results when you begin to change something. To fully live into the change takes time and living through some difficult times of transition. When we start a new ministry, we should not expect it to be perfect right away. It takes time to plant the seed and for it to germinate. We may have one image in our mind of what success may look like, and God may have another. Sure, we would love to have this sanctuary full every Sunday morning, but are we planting seeds with people and letting those seeds take root? Or do we just think someone else will do it or it will happen on its own and it will somehow all of a sudden be the way it used to be?

When we let go of the past and repent, we are telling God that we are willing to change. We are willing to be in a relationship with the very creator of life. We are willing to open our hearts and minds to the mystery that is unknown. Jesus bears this loving relationship for us through his life, from birth to baptism, to his life of ministry and ultimately his willingness to succumb to death on a cross so that we know the depths that God is willing to go, to redeem creation and share God’s love. The ultimate change that takes place is in the resurrection, and that is the promise we are walking towards this Lenten season.

Let us pray. Patient God, may we let go of things in the past that distract us from your very word. You call us to live a life following Jesus and in him may we cultivate a life of change where we begin to embody Christ. Amen.


[1] Story from http://www.marcandangel.com/2013/05/21/4-short-stories-change-the-way-you-think/

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Courage and Letting Go

March 17, 2019

Luke 13:31-35

I have shared in the past that I grew up in a town very similar to Richmond. The one thing that I was thankful for was that I was encouraged to read many books and these books would take me to places I could only dream of traveling to in real life. That is the amazing thing about the power of books. In those books I encountered diversity that I would not see in greater detail until heading off to college.

One of those books that brought me into a world very different from my own was To Kill a Mockingbird. Maycomb, Alabama was very different than Charlotte, Michigan and I was pulled in by the characters, Scout, Jem, Dill, Boo, and even Atticus. Atticus Finch had an air about him, one that was even more impressive if you have seen the movie starring Gregory Peck. Atticus was an example of courage for his children as he defends Tom Robinson against fraudulent charges of rape. His defense of an African American man catches the sleepy little town by surprise, and he disregards their expectations for him. Despite the anger directed towards him, he steps boldly forward in simply defending another human being.

The courage that Atticus portrays is reflective of the same courage that Jesus has when stepping up to Herod. Jesus lets go of the expectations that others have for him and cultivates the courage needed to move forward in his way towards the cross.

The expectations that are in place for Jesus are far from what his plans are as he walks the countryside healing the people. He has not come into the world to crumble Rome. He has not come in to the world to make everything perfect right away. He does not deny being the Messiah. However, the Messiah that many people are expecting is a conquering one that does not do so through death on a cross.

He also surprises others by stepping beyond what a person from the village of Nazareth may do and shocks them that he comes from such a village. In the gospel this morning, a group of Pharisees expect him to move on because Herod wants to kill him. He does not cede to their expectations because he has a mission that is leading him to Jerusalem.

I am sure that everyone has had the experience of undue or unwanted expectations placed upon them. They come at us from all directions. When we are young, we think that they come from our parents and teachers. As we get older, we sense those expectations from bosses, peers, and even possibly family members. Those expectations can be overwhelming. One way to sort through the many expectations is by discernment and prayer. Jesus lets go of the expectations that are placed on him by others and as we follow him, we can find peace in the letting go of undue expectations as well.

Through letting go of the expectations that are placed upon him, Jesus moves forward in courage. A courage that is evident in every step he takes closer to the cross. The research professor and author Brené Brown, talks and writes a lot about courage. She writes,

“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as “ordinary courage.”

During this season of Lent, you are encouraged to find those things that you may like to cultivate within your life. Those things maybe practices that will draw you closer to God. Practices that you can build into habits that go well beyond Lent. Some of you last week wrote on the back doors those things that you are cultivating and letting go. Last week you had the opportunity to talk to your neighbors about what you were going to let go. This week I am going to give you a couple of minutes to speak with a neighbor about what you may like to cultivate in this season of Lent.

Hopefully after having a week to think about this, you are starting to focus on certain practices in your life that either need to be cultivated or even may need to be let go.

By letting go of expectations, Jesus radically breaks into the world in a way that no one had even expected. He steps forward in a courage that is bound up in the Trinity that was present from the very beginning of time. It is an example for us to be vulnerable and throughout we find courage. A courage that is full of determination. Jesus’ courage to move towards the cross should give us hope as we return to God this season of Lent.

Let us pray. Courageous God, we look towards you as the shining light amid the darkness of our own Lent. May you be ever guiding us as we let go of undue expectations and begin to cultivate a courage that is founded in you. Amen.

Entering Lent

March 10, 2019 Lent 1

Luke 4:1-13

The first spring following my families move to Richmond brought grandiose plans of a wonderful thriving garden in the backyard of the parsonage. Vern came over and tilled the ground for us and by the time he was completed, we probably had at least 200 square feet of space for a wonderful garden. We marked the garden all out and planted seeds. We put a fence all the way around the garden so that the many rabbits roaming around the yard would stay out. Since it was the first year, it required a lot of tender loving care to weed it and water it. The weeds seemed to like the water much more than the plants did. Then we went on vacation!

We came home to an enclosed jungle! Okay, maybe it was not quite that bad. I still manage to harvest some radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, and even a bit of lettuce. The corn did not turn out. Neither did the watermelon or cantaloupe. We would try again the following year and scale it back a little. Last year we decided that it was just too much work! It takes a lot of patience to prepare and cultivate a garden. There are many challenges and temptations that come along the way.

On this first Sunday of Lent, Jesus enters the wilderness. He is tempted and holds fast in his faith. During this season of Lent, you are going to be asked to let go of the things that weigh you down and to cultivate those areas in your life that bring growth.

The temptations that are waved in front of Jesus’ face this week are very powerful. They are temptations that pull people into power that is hard to let go of. What if we could turn a stone into a loaf of bread, or simply anything to feed ourselves? Could this be a blessing to those in countries that have the constant threat of famine. Jesus had been fasting for 40 days! He had to be hungry. I am sure the thought of a loaf of bread would have made his mouth water.

Imagine standing on the highest peak wherever you were and being able to see off in the distance for miles and miles. What if someone promised to you that it could all be yours if you just turned away from God and turned your worship towards evil, idols, or even material possessions? Does not sound too far from the truth for some today, does it? How quick we are to turn away from God for something that is newer, brighter, or shinier.

The third temptation of Jesus is the promise of invincibility. This seems to come to us more often when we are young and stupid! Now, don’t try this at home, but one attempt at this for me was when I thought I could run across the pool cover on my parent’s pool in the middle of winter. I may have been trying to show off for the next-door neighbor, and fortunately, I got all the way to the other side before my foot just barely broke through the ice frozen on top.

It is these temptations that Jesus walks away from after fasting for 40 days. He lets go of them so that he can move forward into the ministry that God is calling him to. A ministry that had been established from the very beginning of time.

Many people have used Lent as a time to fast from something as a discipline. I encourage you this year to let go of something. Not just for Lent, but for good. It could be something that distracts you away from God. A great definition of to let go is to relinquish your grip on something. As we do so it provides us the opportunity to return to God.

While Jesus let go of the temptations after his 40 days in the wilderness, it was also a sign of growth. His time of fasting in the wilderness revealed his great faith in God the Father which prepared him for his ministry ahead. A ministry that would lead to growth in his disciple’s faith as well.

Unlike me trying to cultivate a garden, Jesus was much better in cultivating a faith that laid the foundation for all of us to follow. The term to cultivate usually is used in farming as I am sure many of you know. We can also use it to refer to our lives and today to our faith. To cultivate means to prepare and then foster growth. To cultivate also means to labor, care for, study, refine, or encourage. All of these can relate to our faith and its growth as we draw closer to God this Lenten season. It takes work and we must be intentional.

As you noticed, there is also room for you to write on the doors what you are going to cultivate over these next forty days. After his time of testing in the wilderness, Jesus let go of the temptations and cultivated his faith as he drew closer to God.

How are you going to draw closer to God this season?

Let us pray. Lord, we return to you, asking for forgiveness this season of Lent. In this time of preparation, may we be guided by the Holy Spirit to let go of those things that weigh us down and be drawn to those things that cultivate our commitment to you. Amen.

Pilgrim Road: A Benedictine Journey Through Lent by Albert Holt: A Review

PilgrimRoad

What a blessing to be able to have a year long sabbatical in which to travel the world and experience places that you have always wanted to experience. That was the beginning of Albert Holtz’s, O.S.B., journey to the writing of this book. After spending close to three decades in his order he looked forward to taking a sabbatical from teaching and learning from others.

The culmination of his journey is Pilgrim Road. What a pleasure it was for him to invite the reader along the journey with him. I felt as though I was right by his side when he described the various places he had visited and even more so by providing his personal drawings of certain cathedrals and various places. What a gift that he has shared with those that choose to go on a Lenten journey and are inspired to journal their progress. His reflections at the end of each day give ample time for you to contemplate and pray about what the story of the day means to you and reflect upon it.

The journey does not go in chronological order, but that is ok. Each week has a loose theme with it and the stories that he chooses to share with the reader are quite fitting for the day and the specific task of reflecting during Lent. While this version of the book was published as a Lenten journey, it would be possible to pick it up at any time and start your own 40 day journey of contemplation and prayer. I appreciated the prompts that got me to reflect and encouraged me to journal, which at times is not consistent.

The Unexpected God

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John 12:1-8

Grace and Peace to you from God, our Creator, and our Lord, Jesus Christ.

How many of you like to go shopping?

Of course with having two teenagers in the house I have spent my fair share of time in a mall over the course of the years. If you have been in a mall at any time, I am sure that you are familiar with some of the smells that you encounter. The smells that come wafting out of the food court are enough to tempt you into possibly eating when you aren’t even hungry. Almost every mall has a pretzel place and the smells that come from there can make your taste buds water. The smells coming from the cinnamon rolls will make you gain a couple of pounds instantly!

The smell that truly shocks the senses is when you wander into any of the department stores and get immediately pelted by the smells of the cosmetic and fragrance counters. Sometimes so overwhelming that you have to hold your breath just to get through that area of the store, hoping that you can hold your breath long enough without passing out!

It would be my estimation that if we were to walk in on Jesus having dinner with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in our gospel lesson this morning we would have sensed that we had just encountered the fragrance counter in a department store. An entire pound of perfume Mary had purchased, to anoint Jesus’ feet, and to be used at his burial. There was enough on his feet for her to wipe them with her hair!

What are we to make of this story? The breaking of bread among friends with an anointing that not only points towards Jesus’ death; it also points toward his action of washing the disciples feet during the Passover. Is it the fear of scarcity that takes center stage in this gospel lesson, or is it a story of God’s abundant love poured out for all of creation?

This Lenten season we have walked together as a congregation being reminded weekly of our call to turn back to our baptism on a daily basis. Repenting of those things that we have done wrong and those things that we have failed to do allows us to deepen our relationship with a loving, grace-filled God.

We entered this Lenten season with Jesus. Being tempted in the wilderness. As we have entered our own wilderness this Lent, we are reminded of the many temptations that come in front of us on a daily basis. The temptations to turn away from God and place something else in higher priority. I invited you to welcome in disruptions and listen to where God may be calling you in that time and place. We have thought about what we were going to say “yes” to this Lent, and what we were going to say “no” to. Perhaps you have done well following your Lenten discipline, however, I will have to admit that I have been tempted once or twice and may have possibly slipped a little.

Our journey through the past five weeks have been full of temptations whether we have noticed them or not. We may have succumbed to them and not even realized it. God has continued to work throughout the world in the past five weeks as well! God has shown up in places that may not have been expected and has brought hope and peace to those that are hurting and in need of healing. God does this by being with first responders and caring hands that reach out in love and support. Perhaps maybe God will even show up in the mess of a political system in our country that is currently being dominated by hate and fear.

God has shown the unexpected in our gospel lessons these past weeks also. God has been in the unexpected image of Jesus as mother hen gathering in all of the little children. God has been in the unexpected role of the gardener telling us to “just relax and let me tend to and nurture this thing (whatever it may be) that is so close to you and It will bear fruit as it is fed.” God is unexpectedly seen in the father of the prodigal son that comes home after spending all of his inheritance on wasteful living.

Again we find God in the most unexpected places this morning. For Mary to use such costly perfume to wash Jesus’ feet was unheard of. For her as a woman to be anointing is unheard of. She breaks all barriers when she takes it upon herself to wash and anoint Jesus in the midst of dinner. It was leaders and kings that did the anointing, look at Saul and how he anointed David. God shows up in the most unexpected places, breaking barrier to reveal the unexpected.

The objections raised by Judas even come as unexpected as we know the rest of the story and know what lays beyond Jesus’ death. Luke even inserts his own knowledge of Judas’ greed and sinfulness in this story to set up what is about to happen in the betrayal. Here we even experience the unexpected. A sudden plot twist that we may not have seen coming if we did not know the rest of the story. As we have got to know Jesus, we may not be surprised to find that he defends Mary, but to tell us that we will always have the poor with us, that is possibly unexpected. If we will always have the poor with us, how do we live into that together as a community? Stanley Hauerwas suggests that, “The poor we always have with us in Jesus. It is the poor that all extravagance is to be given.” By doing so we shower Jesus with the love that has been given to us from the beginning of creation and reminded of in the waters of baptism.

This next couple of weeks is going to go by at a fast rate as we prepare for Palm/Passion Sunday next weekend as we enter into Holy Week. We will come to the basin to have a feet washed on Maundy Thursday and gather around the table to partake in the Lord’s Supper. Good Friday will provide us with a chance to be with Christ and examine what the crucifixion means to us. The Saturday Easter Vigil will allow us to experience that which was unexpected to the disciples.

God is up to something new! God is showing up in the unexpected! May the fragrance of God’s love wash over us in our preparations for the next two weeks and surprise us with the unexpected.

 

Nurturing Amidst the Suffering

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Luke 13:1-9

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

One hobby that I have attempted for a while now is caring for and growing bonsai, the Japanese art form of creating little trees. My first experience was in college when I received a bonsai beginners kit which allowed you to start your bonsai from the very beginning as a seedling. That first attempt was not very successful. I tried again some years later and managed to overwater another bonsai and thus kill it. While on internship during seminary we had the awesome experience of going to a bonsai show at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens and my interest in bonsai was re-stoked. This time we got a couple of bonsai with the hope of being successful. Our cats did not have the same perception of the trees that we did. They would rather eat them. Thus, my experimentation with bonsai came to an end for a while.

When reading from Luke this morning and the parable of the fig tree I am reminded of my own failures at attempting to nurture and bring something to fruition. In our failures we suffer and most of the time it does not feel good. Honestly, it is awful and we get discouraged to try new things or to even continue in whatever it was that we were attempting in the first place. When we fail it brings upon us a sense of suffering.

If there is one thing within the world that many of us would do away with, suffering would be right at the top of the list. Suffering is uncomfortable. Suffering is painful. Suffering brings up too many questions of why. However, suffering is a part of the human experience that is unavoidable.

Not only do we witness the suffering in Jesus’ parable as the landowner wants to be rid of that which will not bear fruit, we also witness suffering at the beginning of our lesson as Jesus speaks of the evil of Pilate. The reference to the Galileans whose blood was mingled with the sacrifices speaks to an unimaginable suffering and shows the contempt that Pilate had for religions other than that of the Roman Empire. Suffering is also present in the eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. Often times when things like this happen we want to ask why. Why does God allow this to happen?

First, God does not allow this to happen, nor does God cause the terrible tragedies in the world that some tv evangelists would like you to believe. Second, God is present right by our side and weeping along side us as we wonder and wander amidst the suffering that happens within our lives and communities. It is the sin of the world that welcomes the suffering and misdirects our ways. Sin and suffering do tend to have a connection as we look at the treacherous ways of Pilate as well as those in our own society today that bring about suffering from their violent acts.

Suffering is not a form of punishment as some may like to think. God does not bring suffering into our lives because of something that we failed to do or something that we even did wrong. Suffering is not a form of punishment for our sins. God’s answer to the sin of the world is not punishment.  God brings to the world a loving presence which breaks through all of the suffering when we open our hearts to its warmth and compassion.

If we venture deeper into the parable of the fig tree, we quite often want to assign God as the landowner that oversees all of the property. This is common since we see God as the author of all creation. In this respect, we then want to place Jesus in the garden bargaining with the landowner to please give him just a little more time to see this tree produce the fruit that you are expecting. I must nourish it and give it good fertilizer for that to happen. The suffering here occurs in the form of inaction. What if this is just a misinterpretation of this parable, which is most likely the case. Nowhere else do we see God in Luke as an angry and vindictive landowner that wants to be rid of those that are not bearing fruit and being calmed by Jesus. Luke instead portrays God as love and always waiting to share that love with those that have found their course veering in a different direction.

What if we are the landowners in Jesus’ parable of the fig tree? What if we are the ones that are quick to do away with those things in our lives that are not bearing any fruit? Do we have little patience to wait and see what will happen when the gardener tills and fertilizes the soil? Perhaps we as the landowners promote our own sense of how the world should work; we do not like to wait and we want things just the way that we like them and there just is not any room for something that is going to take a little while to grow.

As the landowner, we are met in the garden by love. The gardener has been there from the very beginning caring for creation and nurturing all things. God is the gardener. God is patient with us in all of our imperfections and all of our sin. God comes to us bearing good soil that is full of nutrients that encourage our growth and foster our relationship in God. In the garden we can learn how to care for those things that test us and that we so quickly want to push out of our way.

We can learn many things from Jesus and the example he has set for us in his walk. Our faith is nurtured as we allow God to feed and nurture us in the garden instead of trying to make things work the way we want them to.

Does the barren fig tree bear fruit when we let God nurture it? Most definitely! This season of Lent is a time for us to be nurtured and open to a deeper and truer relationship with God as we turn back to our baptism and are reminded of the covenant that was made with us on that day. We are marked with the sign of Christ forever!

I have attempted the art of bonsai again. I currently have two bonsai trees that are a testament to what being patient and learning can result in. This time I learned from those that are experienced bonsai growers. All it takes is just the right amount of love and nurturing to grow a healthy and vibrant bonsai.

You are loved and nurtured by the gardener that calls us all into creation. May you be open to that love and nurturing as we continue into Lent.

Where Is Our Trust?

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Luke 13:31-35

Grace and Peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

As you get older you begin to learn a few things. The wisdom gained through life experiences and knowledge helps you determine the appropriate things to say and do given the situation that you are confronted with. When you are young, you have the impression that you can rule the world and nothing can get in your way. You even say and do the things that are not the smartest. A lot of times this can come in regards to our responses into what other people say and do. Our common thought is that if you are going to say or do something inappropriate to me then I will retaliate in a way that reflects back to you. If someone does something we do not like then we are most certainly going to give it back to them in one form or another.

Believe it or not, I was not always the pastor you see before you! I have done some pretty stupid things in my life and hopefully have learned from them along the way. One such example happened shortly after I received my drivers license. Please do not follow my example. I came up to a 4-way stop in my hometown and believed that I was the first one at the corner as a couple of other cars approached the corner from other directions. After stopping I proceeded to turn left when the truck opposite me decided that he was going to turn right at the same time. I made sure that I did not let him get in front of me, but as I did I honked and waved a friendly little bird in his direction. As I said, it was a stupid mistake! I was only sixteen and thought I knew the rules of the road. Well, needless to say, the driver in the truck (a pretty large man), was not amused and proceeded to park and get out of truck and came up to my car while I was at the stoplight and pounded on my passenger side window. I learned a few different things that day. One was to not anger someone that was much larger than me. The second was to never flip someone off while driving in the car. And the third was that even if you left the house with clean underwear on someone may scare you enough if you provoke them that it will no longer be clean!

When we live in a system where we respond to a negative situation with a negative response then all we are doing is punishing a bad behavior. Herod’s message comes to Jesus in our gospel this morning in threats of death. This is the system that is in place and he is playing by the rules that he is aware. If someone does something that we appreciate and is nice then they are rewarded. However, in Jesus’ case, where someone does something you are not fond of, like being a visible opponent of current culture, then they must suffer some form of punishment. This reward and punishment system is very familiar even today. The problem is when we place our faith in that reward and punishment system, or the law as it is also known.

We can easily misplace our trust in rewards and punishment. Paul labels the law in 2 Corinthians as both a “ministry of condemnation,” and also a “ministry of death.” When we place our trust in rewards and punishments then we exist in fear – the fear of failure, the fear of having done wrong, the fear of being punished. When fear is present, it leaves little room for love. Herod was not seeking Jesus out because he loved him. Herod was seeking Jesus out because he was fearful of him and he wanted to exterminate that fear.It was in the ministry of the law that Herod came to Jesus and condemned him for all he had said and done. A ministry of solely the law, or rewards and punishment brings about death and kills relationships. While death may be a reward for those that have suffered for a long time and punishment for those that have stepped outside of legal boundaries; reward and punishment cannot overcome death!

Jesus comes and walks with us in a counter-cultural way that speaks opposite of the reward and punishment structure. Jesus has come to banish the law from ruling our lives and brings about love. An abundant ever flowing love. In that love is mercy and mercy comes in the third day. Jesus’ reaction to the Pharisees is one that is not retaliatory, but one that speaks the truth and places trust in the third day. He will continue to cast out demons and heal both today and tomorrow, and on the third day he finishes his work. It may have been punishment from the Roman authorities that killed Jesus, however, Jesus placed his trust in God. The work of mercy on that third days comes in the form of Jesus’ resurrection so that we too can be raised up from death. If we rely on rewards and punishments then we are dead to love. Jesus conquers all of that!

In the mercy that comes to us from Christ our faith is nurtured and grows beautifully into something much greater. We must turn back to our baptism constantly to be reminded of that love that Jesus shares with us. There is only room for trust in our heart of Jesus and any trust that we place in rewards and punishment is misguided.

Jesus gives us mercy without any expectations so that we too may give mercy and forgiveness to those that we interact. We are called to live by mercy when we walk with the stranger and the alien. We live by my mercy when we are for our neighbors and sisters and brothers. We live by mercy when we welcome in and feed those that have been shunned away by others. One of our temptations during Lent may be to trust in rewards and punishment. Where does mercy reside in this?

May we take time during this Lenten season to repent of those temptations. May we not hurt people when we are hurt. May we not provoke others when we feel that we have been provoked. May we be cautious in rewarding those that are simply nice to us. May we offer mercy to all that come to us and may we give abundantly of the love that has been given to us.