Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Let there be mercy

Tonight we began our Wednesday Lenten series at Trinity Lutheran-Fort Worth. We began this series with the emphasis on the theme "Let there be mercy". We are drawing this theme from a song written by Ben Kyle called "Mercy". The song sings of issues and realities of life coming time and again back to the hook "Let there be Mercy, Mercy, Mercy".

We sing this as our closing song after we have sung a gathering hymn, heard the word, sung one of the great Lenten hymns of the tradition and praying a prayer of confession and hope (see below).

Tonight our scripture was Matthew 9, the call of the tax collector Matthew. We heard these words and were challenged to think about what Jesus meant when he said he came to call sinners, not the righteous. To learn what it meant when God says "I desire Mercy, not sacrifice." These are profound words for us especially, I believe, when we recognize Jesus' most important statement of mercy to Matthew. For when he called Matthew he said nothing about sin, death or Matthew's own situation. He simply expressed mercy to him by saying "Follow me."

Mercy is an invitation. An invitation into Lent. Into disciplines and repentance not because God is angry or demanding, but because God is merciful and inviting. Like the pharisees we question Jesus' invitation to Matthew. He is but a tax collector and sinner. But he is also a human being. Is he not worthy of mercy? Of the invitation to discipleship?

Sometimes in Lent we get so caught up in the rules (I have largely given up meat for the season) that we forget the purpose. We have been offered an opportunity to experience mercy. To recognize our sin, our guilt, and our need for repentance in community. To receive the invitation to mercy and to follow Christ.

The most profound moment for me this evening was after the service ended. The community left in silence and in the pews were two friends. These friends were praying together. Uninterested in those in their midst, focused on prayer together and mutual consolation. Mutual mercy. I have no idea what they prayed for tonight, but I pray that they received from God the invitation to mercy.

So this Lent I pray for you and for all. Let there be mercy. You are invited.

Prayer of Confession and Hope
P: In the scriptures we are reminded that God calls us to repentance. That when we acknowledge our sin God graciously hears our prayer. So we come now with words of confession, scripture and prayers for forgiveness. All praying that God might show mercy, forgive our sin and reconcile us to God and our neighbor...
C: Let there be mercy

P: From First John: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and God's word is not in us.
C: Let there be mercy

P: From Psalm 32: Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD." And you forgave the guilt of my sin.
C: Let there be mercy

P: From James: Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
C: Let there be mercy.

P: Let there be mercy on us O God. For all of our sins we have committed against you, our brothers and sisters and your earth. For our wastefulness, for our greed, for our indifference to others suffering.
C: Let there be mercy.

P: Let there be mercy on us O God. For all of our sins that come from our failure to act. For standing by in the face of injustice, for prejudice and unkind thoughts about our neighbors, for our lack of generosity with your abundance.
C: Let there be mercy.

P: We confess our sins before you O God, trusting that in you we have mercy through the son Jesus Christ. Cleanse us, free us, and send us forth into the world to serve you, grow as your disciples and proclaim good news in Christ's Name.
C: Amen. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

"Alright, Alright, Alright" and "L-I-V-I-N"

Last night, unbeknownst to me because I didn't watch the Oscars, Matthew McConaughey won the best actor prize for his portrayal of Ron Woodroof in "Dallas Buyers Club". This movie was about a straight man who contracted AIDS in the early 1980's and became an advocate for alternative drug therapies, opened his mind to be compassionate to others, and spent years fighting the FDA for the right to import alternative drugs.

I didn't see the movie, and I frankly didn't know anything about McConaughey's speech until I heard it in a clip on ESPN radio here in DFW Monday Afternoon. Since he is both a graduate of The University of Texas and a local celebrity, they were discussing his speech and its significance as it related to who his "hero" was.

Some have called his speech a "rambling discourse" which didn't really say or mean anything. However, what he did say I believe has significance and value. Basically, McConaughey said that when he was asked at the age of 15 who his hero was, he didn't have an answer. Finally he claims he stated his hero was who he wanted to be in 10 years. Who he would be at 25. Then when he was 25 he was asked again and he said his hero was who he would be at 35. Ultimately he said "My hero's always 10 years away...I'm never going to attain that. That keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing."

The debate on ESPN radio and in other places was whether this was just more self-adulation from an over-hyped star. And indeed McConaughey is known for being a bit of a goof (some of us in Austin remember a naked bongo incident in Tarrytown post-Dazed and Confused fame). However, I think his thoughts have real value.

Most people's heroes are other people. Folks who achieve great things and we aspire to be like them. That is great. However, you can never be another person. You are who God has made you to be. You are uniquely gifted as you are gifted. I wanted to be a great NFL Offensive lineman growing up and idolized Anthony Munoz, Erik Williams and Joe Jacoby. Yet I could not be them. My body, my mind, my being, are a unique gift of God and I was not to be them.

McConaughey hit on this in his speech last night, intended or not. He made a profound statement about being who we are called to be. A profound statement as we head into Lent. On Wednesday many of our tribe will gather to receive Ashes on their foreheads and acknowledge that they are dust and to dust they shall return. In so doing they will read the words of Psalm 51.

Reading this Psalm we will confess many things and yet have hope that what God wants is not for us to be something else than what we are, but to truly be who we are..."For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."

God doesn't need us to be more than who we are. We are broken sinful beings. We aren't superstars. But neither were Moses, Aaron, Peter, Paul or Thomas. God wants us to be who we are. To confess the brokenness. To embrace possibility. Who can we be if we live into this? Can we be our own hero?Be the one to whom we aspire? Let go of trying mimic a hero. You aren't Gene Upshaw or Mike Webster or Matt Birk, deal with it. But can you be the person God is calling you to be in 10 years?

This is why I believe in the ministry of Coaching. It is a ministry that calls us to be who we are. To encourage us to think about who we might be in 10 years. Can that leader, teacher, pastor, custodian, lawyer, maid, medical tech, doctor, financier, nurse, engineer, mother/father/uncle/aunt/step-parent/god-parent/grandparent etc... ad infinitum be our hero? I think they can. And I think they should. But you will need a guide along the path. A friend, a coach, who can help you discern the markers for your journey.

I end with a quote from a great Gen X philosopher.

"Let me tell you this, the older you do get the more rules they're gonna try to get you to follow. You just gotta keep livin' man, L-I-V-I-N."

Be who God is is calling you to be. Confess, be free and live into that. L-I-V-I-N