Judgment Delayed Is MercyPosted: August 18, 2013
YOU COULD FALL IN A BUCKET OF MANURE AND COME OUT SMELLING LIKE A ROSE
When I was only ten years old my parents, who in hindsight were very brave, took my brother, aged fourteen, and I on a two and a half month tour of Europe. On that trip my parents taught my brother and I how to play bridge, so as a family we would have something to do in the evenings. Through a combination of beginner’s luck and a willingness to take foolish chances, I would often, undeservedly rescue victory from the jaws of defeat – the trump would be split, the cards would fall just right, my brother would fall for my finesse of his Ace. My father, who had rotten card luck would exclaim, “You could fall into a bucket of manure and come out smelling like a rose.”
NEEDED TO WRITE A PROFESSIONAL PAPER TO GRADUATE
When I was working on my doctorate at the Chicago Theological Seminary, I had to write a professional paper, but, because of my general disorganization, I was a little bit at a loss about what to use as my research project. Finally my advisor, Phil Anderson, suggested I write up a case study by reconstructing some counseling work I had done with a client whom I had seen over the course of a couple of years. When I approached the client for permission to use her in my case study and to solicit her cooperation she said, “Oh by the way I have been keeping a journal for the last three years, would that be any help to you?” Once again I had fallen into the bucket of manure, and come out smelling like a rose.
Have you ever had the experience of being saved from disaster by some undeserved grace? The highway patrolman pulled you over and gave you a warning instead of a well deserved ticket? The teacher canceled the test for which you had not studied? Or you walked away from an accident, when by rights you were a gonner? Or the doctor said it was “benign” rather than “cancer” – like being given your life back again when you thought it was all over. Unexpected, undeserved grace can be like Christmas in July, or escaping the hangman on a technicality!
We certainly do not want to advise people to “trust to luck.” The minute we live as if we will of course receive undeserved grace, our luck runs out. Sort of like George Armstrong Custer who all through-out the Civil War had one lucky encounter after another. Graduating last in his class from West Point, he was promoted by accident to Brigadier General. At the battle of Gettysburg he foolishly charged a cavalry division of 5,000 with a brigade of 500 men and saved the day. Latter in the Shenandoah Valley he led another charge against long odds and succeeded.
DON’T ASSUME ANYTHING
While we were on vacation this past month, we visited the Little Big Horn Battlefield, where Custer’s luck finally ran out. For me the most important lesson of the Little Big Horn is that up until twenty minutes before he died, Custer assumed that his greatest challenge of the day was preventing the Indians from escaping. On the Crow Indian Reservation next to the Custer Battlefield there was a “T” shirt with a picture of “Last Stand Hill” and the inscription, “Don’t assume anything!” So, don’t trust to luck, because inevitably luck runs out. However, should unexpected, undeserved grace happen to come our way remember to offer up a prayer of thanksgiving – thank God!
JUDGMENT DELAYED IS MERCY
Our parable from Jesus this morning suggests undeserved grace. A fig tree is unproductive. The owner wants the fruitless tree cut down, but the gardener intervenes on behalf of the tree, not for past performance, but for the hope of future productivity. “Let me dig around it and put some manure around it, maybe prune it a bit and see if the tree can achieve its potential.” Judgment delayed is mercy.
GOOD FRUIT OF MISSION, JUSTICE, PEACEMAKING, HEALING, SERVICE, CHARITY
The Parable this morning is a metaphor for the church. Prayer, worship, study, and meditation, are activities intended to lead us to the fruits of the spirit, but God’s intention for the followers of Jesus is to bear the good fruit of mission, justice, peacemaking, healing, service and charity. God wants us to change ourselves. God wants us to make a difference and change the world one person at a time. Jesus also told us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty, visit the sick and imprisoned. Jesus showed us the way of love so we might help others learn to share love. Too often rather than bearing the good fruit of mission, justice, peacemaking, healing, service and charity the church becomes focused on institutional survival – paying the utilities, fixing the building, recruiting enough warm bodies to sit on committees. Judy Cameron used a marvelous devotional at the last Deacon’s meeting: Jesus never sat through a Church Council meeting or worried over advertising or a Stewardship Campaign. Again and again we ask, “What would Jesus do?” Jesus prayed, healed the sick, proclaimed forgiveness, fed hungry people, gave hope to the poor, encouraged people to share with one another, told people God loved them, and preached good news to people who were marginalized. As Jesus said to the lawyer, we should go and do likewise.
EXPLORE NEW WAYS OF DOING CHURCH
I think Jesus’ Parable this morning is a metaphor we need to live into – a living fruit bearing community of faith. Our Re-visioning Committee is charged with the difficult assignment of figuring out how United Church can be faithful to the mission of Jesus Christ in a changing and challenging environment. The youngest generations in our society for the most part have written off the church, and the issues of institutional survival seem overwhelming in a climate when our culture is changing rapidly and the business model for religious organizations is in transition. Maybe like newspapers we will have to figure out how to find revenue beyond advertising and subscriptions. Churches are increasingly accepting contributions via credit and debit card and have provided a place on their websites to make contributions. Rector Susan Sloan at the last Labyrinth Committee Meeting introduced the idea of creating a columbarium a place for interring ashes in conjunction with the Labyrinth. Going into the future we may need to be very creative, if we are going to be faithful to the mission of Jesus Christ in the world and realistic about our needs for institutional maintenance. We may need to dig around the community of faith and apply a generous helping of manure. How do we re-imagine ourselves into the future? We will need to think outside the box.
BREAD, WINE, COMMUNITY
Allow me then this morning to lift up the symbol of the Lord’s Supper as we envision ourselves into the future. We will form a circle as we share the bread and the wine this morning, a circle, the symbol of community. We are the community of faith that follows in the footsteps of Jesus by remembering his life, death and resurrection. Let us today re-dedicate ourselves to the mission of Jesus in the world, the good fruit justice, peacemaking, healing, service and charity, welcoming everyone into the circle of caring — full circle Lord, full circle.