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/

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.