Like Magic.

The Good Word for Sunday March 20th ~ for the complete readings click here.

I like magic. I pretend like I don’t, as if I’m too cool for it and am not totally amazed. I often pretend to know just how the illusionist is performing his illusions, but I don’t. I know it is a total nerd thing to admit to liking magic, but when the climax of the card trick or the illusion finally happens, I am usually left astonished. I don’t look for magic shows to watch, but I’ve been known to stop and watch a show if I happen upon one while flipping through channels.

In the gospel this weekend, Jesus suffers, is crucified, and dies. It is the story of what God was willing to do to win us back to him. At one point in the story, it says, “Herod was very glad to see Jesus; he had been wanting to see him for a long time, for he had heard about him and had been hoping to see him perform some sign.”

Why was Herod glad to see Jesus? It says that Herod was hoping to see Jesus perform some sign. I think Herod is hoping to see some magic. Not illusions or tricks, but spiritual acts with real power. Herod doesn’t care for good to be done or for God to be glorified. Herod wants to be entertained by Jesus.

Herod questions Jesus for sometime, but apparently not getting the answers he wants, Herod mocks Jesus and sends him back to Pilate. Herod isn’t interested in finding out who Jesus is; Herod is interested in see what Jesus does. Herod cares about his own power and pleasure and only cares about what Jesus can do for him.

Sometimes, we run the risk of treating Jesus and Church like Herod does in the gospel. Sometimes we want Church to entertain us, not change us. Sometimes, we are only glad to see Jesus because we think we are going to see some signs and wonders. Sometimes we are more interested in what Jesus can do for us than who Jesus is. Sometimes, we are only interested in the idea of Jesus, instead of having an authentic relationship with him.

How do we avoid being Herod in our relationship with Jesus? Put Jesus in charge. Herod expects Jesus to do whatever he wants. Herod is looking for Jesus to serve him. If we want to have an authentic relationship with Jesus, we have to put and keep Jesus in charge.

Live It:
A good way to keep Jesus in charge is to dedicate some prayer time to silence. Take 5-10 minutes (or just 2 minutes if you can’t imagine being silent for longer than that), and sit in silence each day for the next week. Let God fill the silence of your prayer.

Real Change.

The Good Word for Sunday March 13 ~ for the complete readings click here. 

Change. Nobody likes it. Okay, I guess some people like it, but once people get comfortable it is hard to change. My dad has had the same haircut for 50+ years. It’s kind of like behavioral inertia. Once we stop moving or once we get moving it’s hard to start or stop.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of books have been written about change. Some explain how we change. Others give steps for organizational change. Still other books are all about how to avoid change.

Even when something is really bad for us, it is hard to stop doing it. Even when something is really good for us, it is hard to start (and keep going). In Lent some of us have given up something or added a new behavior. I bet most of us will fall right back into our old ways after Lent is over no matter how good our Lenten promise has been for us.

That’s why the readings today are so amazing. The first reading references the Exodus out of the slavery of Egypt and into the promised land. But the reading is from Isaiah who is writing many, many years later during the time of the Babylonian exile, when the people of Israel were conquered and moved hundred of miles to Babylon. The people had been freed from the slavery of Egypt, but had fallen away from God and ended right back in slavery to a different master. Change is hard.

In the gospel, the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus to catch him disagreeing with the law of Moses. Instead, Jesus does some extraordinary; Jesus shows mercy.

He not only shows mercy to the woman, but he using the moment to teach those gathered about who is need of mercy. Who is a sinner? Everyone. Who needs God’s mercy? Everyone. Who needs to change? Everyone.

The thing is when Jesus turns to the woman and tells her to go and sin no more, he is really talking to everyone. When one is shown mercy, the appropriate response is to change. When mercy is given, the one receiving mercy gets a do-over. Wouldn’t it be crazy if someone got a do-over and then did the exact same thing again?

We get a do-over every time God shows us mercy. We get another chance to be better, to do good and avoid evil. We get the chance to change.

If you had a second chance to live your life again, how would you choose to live differently? Do that.

Live it:
With just two weeks left of Lent, make a plan to make a change following Lent. If you gave up something consider what it might mean to continue to abstain in some way. If you added prayer, think about how you may continue that practice.

The rest of the story.

The Good Word for Sunday March 6th ~ for the complete readings click here.

The late, great radio host and social commentator Paul Harvey used to sign off his broad cast with the phrase, “And now you know…the rest of the story.” If you ever heard him on the radio you probably just imagined him speaking those very words in his gruff, but kind voice.

I want to know the rest of the story when it comes to our gospel today. We are all very familiar with the story of the prodigal son that Jesus tells in our gospel. We may be so familiar with it that we simply assume we know what it says. Younger son asks for his inheritance, goes off, feels bad, returns home, dad welcomes him, older son upset, and that’s it.

But I want to know what happened next. What happened the next morning when the older son went out to work the fields, all of which were his? What did the father say to the younger son then? What happens in 15-30 years when the Father dies?

Of course we’ll never know because it is parable, a story told by Jesus to make a point. The point is that no matter what, father shows mercy to his younger son. Yes, even though asking for his in heritance is like the younger son telling his father he wishes his father were dead. Yes, he squandered his money on licentious living. Yes, when he returns home he really isn’t sorry, he is just hungry. Yes, the son never really apologies. Nonetheless, the father loves unconditionally and welcomes home his son with open arms. The point is that no matter what we’ve done (even if we were tax collectors and prostitutes, the very people Jesus is telling this story to) God will welcome us home if we return to him.

I get that. But I can’t help but wonder about the next day. See for the father to give his son half of his inheritance, he didn’t just write him a check. No the son’s inheritance was the father’s land. So to give it to him, the father had to sell it. The next morning when the younger son stood in the kitchen with a cup of tea and looked out the window at his father’s property, he probably saw a new fence and strangers (or the neighbors) farming what should have been his land. What was that like for him?

God is merciful. The theme of this Holy Year is “Merciful like the Father.” Yes, God is merciful in a profound and almost irrational way. He loves us more than we can even understand. And there will still be consequences when we turn away.

The good news is that though this is the last we hear of the brothers, our story isn’t finished yet. When we do return, God will welcome us with open arms. If you are feeling burdened by the consequences of your sin, go back to God anyway. If you are worried you won’t be good enough, go back anyway. If you can’t imagine a God who would want you in heaven with him forever, return to him because God desires to be with you more than you know.

Live It:
Who do you miss? Think about someone you miss and what you would do to be reunited with them. Then thank God for his unconditional love for you.