2.21.2016 - 2nd Sunday of Lent
The Easy Way?
Most of us have probably heard all our lives that we should “work smart.” After all, work is hardest done the easiest way... Of course, doing things the easy way is usually more attractive, more appealing, than working hard at something... and delaying gratification, for sure! Still... we all know hard work has its own rewards… and there’s nothing wrong with hard work… but... hard work is no guarantee of success. So, the chance of an easier way - a more direct path - is tempting... and catches our attention.
Paul was talking to the church at Philippi about a similar thing: he cautioned the Philippians not to be seduced by promises of an easier way to live the Christian life. If you’ve ever studied the writings of Paul... then you probably know he was very “defensive” of his personal understanding of how to live a Christian life - often warning his readers about false prophets… those who would lead them astray by preaching a false gospel... a “gospel” that was no Gospel at all. He cautioned about taking the easy way out, and used the example of “enemies of the cross of Christ,” those who allowed their minds to be “on earthly things” rather than things above. He encouraged the church at Philippi to “stand firm in the Lord,” and called em’ to remember their “citizenship is in heaven.”
Jesus speaks of the “narrow door,” the need for discipline and faithfulness. Those who came to Jesus with questions were looking for answers... some were legitimately seeking the Kingdom of God, no doubt... but others, not so much! Many were looking for easy answers - a more convenient way. And in our lesson today... we sense one of the times that Jesus seems to get impatient with the crowd, becoming frustrated with their inability to understand what he’d been trying to teach. But later his impatience and frustration gave way to compassion, as he grieved over Jerusalem and the people; longing to gather the people, to comfort and protect the people - only they were not willing.
Of course, our lessons today have to do with faithfulness and trust... acknowledging the difficulty… the challenge… of staying the course… of holding true, of remaining faithful, of pressing on! We all want, and need, and long for the security of connection, of relationship, of covenant. It’s why we say, “I do” during our wedding vows. It’s why we promise to be in connection together, as the body of Christ, the church... leaning on one another, trusting one another, encouraging one another. But such relationships always require something of us! ALWAYS! There’s no such thing as a 50/50 relationship... a 50/50 relationship won’t work! Relationships are never half-n’-half! Nor, are they one sided... not even with God! Relationship implies that both parties are involved. 100% involved!
Of course, sometimes we get distracted and overwhelmed, or have - what we think - are higher priorities. Sometimes we’re just tired, or we think that the other person doesn’t care about us—or a hundred other things that draw our attention away from where it needs to be. And sometimes it’s just easier to let ourselves be distracted, than to do the work - sometimes the hard work - that keeps us in relationship with one another. Things that build up relationships: like trust and honesty, faithfulness and forgiveness... can be hard... And making an effort, being disciplined, trusting, being faithful and attentive and intentional… those things take time. It’s the narrow way – the road less traveled – the more difficult path. It can be hard, especially in a world that does its best to keep us distracted and off-balance.
And yet, there's little we need more than deep, lasting, real relationships with each other - with families, friends, loved ones, communities - our church family... and, most of all, with God. Of course, when we cheat ourselves out of such essential, life-giving relationships, those who love us suffer, but, we’re the ones who suffer most! We’re the ones who lose the most. We cheat ourselves when we take the easy way, when we avoid the narrow way of truth and integrity and love. At the end of the day, truth, and faithfulness, and love are the things that matter... and when we try to live without them, it’s no life at all, really. That’s why Paul calls to task... and it’s why Jesus laments.
The narrow way is about loving unconditionally, giving unconditionally. It’s about opening up our hearts completely, and stretching ourselves to the very limits of love and trust. And that’s scary! It’s risky business! We’re afraid to do these things... because there’s a very strong chance our hearts will get stepped on and may even get broken when we make ourselves so vulnerable.
And even though we know that God is love... and that he loves us with an everlasting love; that he loves us first and loves us most... we still... all too... often believe that being loved really depends on our worthiness. So, we want some proof, because, of course, we usually believe we are not worthy. So, we try to bargain for love, even with God, because we can’t understand any other way. It’s how we are taught. We want to know what’s in it for us... what do we get out of the deal! Jesus mourns over because we do not live into the fullness of the promise. We believe in scarcity rather than in God’s abundance, and we’re afraid there won’t be enough for us. We’d rather take the easy way out because it demands less of us. But Christ calls us to abandon our fear and lack of trust; we are called to walk wide-eyed into God’s love. It’s what Paul is talking about when he reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven.” It is what Jesus longs for, grieves over... Jesus longs to soften our hearts, to wash away our fear, making room for his love, his presence, his joy... There’s no easy way for that to happen. It takes “every effort” - as Jesus says. It takes commitment... it takes faithfulness... participation... it takes work! It requires that we “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [us] heavenward...”May you and I do nothing less...