Have mercy on us – hardship for the gospel

Series Introduction

This is the fifth week of a series we are calling, have mercy on us. We see this pleading before Jesus by ten lepers who are looking for something from Jesus that will make their lives better. The series will look at the way Jesus challenges us to be disciples and how without realizing it we depend on the mercy of God.

We are a people who demand justice. As young children we learn what is fair and what is not fair almost from the moment we can speak. If our little brother gets something better than us, we immediately point out to our parents, that “it is not fair.” Justice is being fair. If we drive too fast and are pulled over by law enforcement, justice demands we receive a ticket. However, many of us in that situation seek some sort of mercy. Let the infraction be overlooked and let us go on our way as if nothing ever happened.

In this series we will look at the ways we need mercy, receive mercy and depend on mercy in the context of the Sunday readings. We will look at the teachings from the readings and then apply what we are called to live against the mercy of God. We want God to be just for sure, but we discover it is God’s mercy we truly desire.

Recall past weeks

Four weeks ago the readings pointed us toward the cross. Jesus spoke about being a disciple which puts the cross front and center. The cross is image that reflects mercy from God, it is God’s love for us and all humanity.  Three weeks ago the readings focused on finding the lost. God places great importance on finding the lost. No matter what we have done while away from God, rejoining God comes with celebration and happiness through the mercy of God. Two weeks ago we read Jesus giving himself as ransom for all. God in his mercy has the ransom for all, the one mediator, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as ransom for all, stressing all without prejudice.  Last week the readings challenged us to recognize we might be living thoughtlessly, to go through life unaware of the gifts we have from God, and the mercy available to us. Holding on to our gifts not sharing with others and living thoughtlessly is not how we are called to live as Christians.

This Week

This week the readings provide us a look at how we have hardship for the gospel. The people of the prophet Amos’ time are suffering and struggling and Amos himself has difficulty understanding what God is doing. But, through faith he lives through the hardship and eventually understands God’s plan. Paul writing to Timothy knows Timothy is struggling and is trying to encourage him. Paul tells him to bear with his share of hardship for the gospel. The path of living a gospel life is not easy. In the gospel reading Jesus is teaching about a servant who knows his place and although it is a difficult life he is glad to struggle through hardship to please his master. Jesus tells the disciples they are this servant. Gospel living is not meant to be easy, there are always hardships. But thanks to the mercy of God, we can endure.

Gospel living is not meant to be easy, there are always hardships. But thanks to the mercy of God, we can endure. Click To Tweet

The readings this week are from the Lectionary for the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time; Habukkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4; Psalms 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; 2 Timothy 6:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10. The readings guide us to focus on hardship fro the gospel, a message as important as the gospel will come with suffering, struggle and hardship.

In the first reading the prophet Habakkuk is in dialogue with God. Habakkuk is crying out to God about the wrong doing of the people of Israel. Why must he watch the violence and wrongdoing and you God do not intervene? In time God does respond by sending a cruel and violent people to purify the chosen. Habakkuk doesn’t understand how God can use such an irreligious and pitiless nation to do his work. But Habakkuk does not despair over God’s response and remains attentive to the voice of the Lord. The Lord finally speaks to Habakkuk explaining there is a time for everything, the one who is not upright will be over thrown, but the righteous shall live. God is telling him and us, there may be delays but it will come, the Lord will not disappoint. Because of faith the righteous will have life abundantly. God tells Habakkuk that if there is delay wait. We might have to endure hardship and discomfort for a time, but the Lord will make all right. We endure hardships for the gospel, as Jesus endured hardships to usher in the new covenant. The faithful will always have God’s response, despite any hardship or long waiting, hardships is responded to by God’s right answer and mercy.

We might have to endure hardship and discomfort for a time, but the Lord will make all right. We endure hardships for the gospel, as Jesus endured hardships to usher in the new covenant. Click To Tweet

In the second reading Paul is writing from prison in Rome to his disciple Timothy, encouraging him. Paul is affirming Timothy in his faith, concerned that discouragement of the difficulties of Timothy’s office may keep him from exerting his leadership with full energy so he can adequately meet the challenge to his faith these difficulties present. Timothy’s faith is strong but he has to activate it. Besides having his own trouble people are looking at the arrest of Paul as a reason to step away from the message of the gospel. Paul is telling Timothy do not be ashamed; bear your share of hardship for the gospel. The gospel message is a difficult message, if it were easy more people might follow. To be a gospel follower takes hard work, it will challenge us to do things which are contrary to what most of society would say to do and even contrary to what our own intellect might be telling us to do. But, following the gospel, the good news of Jesus, leads to the best life and makes us better at life. There are very few things in life that are worthwhile that come without a cost. In fact it may be the cost of doing a thing that makes it so memorable and fulfilling. Paul emphasizes this hardship because he wants to invite Timothy to experience communion with himself and Christ for the sake of the gospel. Suffering was part of the deal when Jesus called Paul and Timothy is sharing that grace. He is to stand with all who are suffering, be confined with all who are confined, be accused with all who are accused. Communion in the community of Christ comes with solidarity, which means there will be hardships for the gospel that may not even be our own. But the strength that comes from God is available and all the more needed when we are called to suffer the shame of bearing the cross.

Communion in the community of Christ comes with solidarity, which means there will be hardships for the gospel that may not even be our own. Click To Tweet

In the gospel Luke shares another of Jesus’ parables. First he responds to a question from the apostles, asking for more faith. Jesus seems to think their small faith is enough but that they must use it. The parable is a telling of the relationship between a master and a servant. The servant is out working in the fields and at noon returns to the home. Should the servant expect the master has made him a meal? No. In fact the master demands his meal and the servant should be eager and grateful to do as commanded. Jesus tells the apostles it should be the same with them. They should recognize they are servants and are doing what they are obliged to do. It may sound harsh but Jesus is reminding them that there will be no glory in spreading the word of God, in fact there is hardship in the gospel. As servants of the Lord they will meet with hardships and setbacks and immense challenges. They may not even see their work is bearing fruit, but they must continue doing it and doing it with a joyful attitude. Jesus doesn’t try to let them think they will be honored and given a parade, but much like his own life they will end their lives in suffering and death. The apostles will make great strides as we know, we are a community of followers today because of their great work, but in there work they struggled often, and no doubt by the time of their death, usually though some execution, they would agree there is hardship in the gospel. This hardship is not a reason to stop, but it is reason to understand the glory is for God, and we should thank God for our part in bringing the gospel to others.

The apostles will make great strides as we know, we are a community of followers today because of their great work, but in there work they struggled often, and no doubt by the time of their death, usually though some execution, they… Click To Tweet

We see in these three readings that there is hardship in doing the work of Jesus, the gospel message is hard to convince people to accept and once accepted doesn’t make for an easy life for followers. Accepting the gospel we accept hardship and the life of a servant who wants to do the will of the Father. The gospel begins with a message to love one another, even our enemy, we are told to forgive, even those who do not deserve forgiveness or ask for our forgiveness. We are challenged to put others first and push our own desires to the back of all the needs of others. Of course the gospel is hard, but it is still the message we all need to hear, to build a communion with one another and be able to live with one another expanding the community through love, letting it spread throughout our churches, towns, communities and ultimately throughout the entire world. The message of the gospel, helps us realize it is with each other that life is better. Isolated and alone we have nothing. So accept the hardship of the gospel, accept it and spread it knowing it is not easy, but it is worthwhile.

The message of the gospel, helps us realize it is with each other that life is better. Isolated and alone we have nothing. Click To Tweet

Being open to the hardship of the gospel, we must also remember God is mercy. Wherever hardship overwhelms us God has the ability to make it better. This is the message of the cross. God took the cross, the greatest hardship of the gospel and turned it into new life, into resurrection, into joy and happiness. If God can use his mercy to convert the cross into something good, certainly God can take any hardship and make it turn out for the good of the gospel.

If God can use his mercy to convert the cross into something good, certainly God can take any hardship and make it turn out for the good of the gospel. Click To Tweet

Have mercy on us – hardship for the gospel

Throughout time there are those who have followed the gospel and met hardship. We know that most of the apostles died a martyrs death. Even in our own time we have those who lived the gospel and were met with hardship and sometimes even died a martyrs death.

Martin Luther King, Jr. a Christian preacher who adopted the non-violent principles of Mahatma Gandhi lead a gospel life. He was a voice and advocate for people who were oppressed unfairly. He worked tirelessly to see that those who had no voice were given a voice. He became the figure of a civil rights movement that is still trying to find the right kind of equality for all. In the end his message was so difficult for some to hear that he was assassinated dying a martyr’s death. His life did not go as he planned, but he answered a call that took him to places and experiences he could have never planned. He lived the message Jesus shared with Peter, “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18)  Certainly the life he planned was not the plan God needed him to live. Even in death his voice is still a clear sounding for a gospel message that requires struggle and hardship to be lived as it is meant to be lived.

Martin Luther King, Jr. a Christian preacher who adopted the non-violent principles of Mahatma Gandhi lead a gospel life. He was a voice and advocate for people who were oppressed unfairly. Click To Tweet

Mother Theresa, a woman living in poor India recognizes those who had no voice, first those dying in the streets and then others who could hardly survive. She took it on as her personal duty, given her from the gospel, to help those dying and without a voice. She would be present at the death of many saying through her example that all life has value, a strong gospel principle. She lived a life that was not her own but took her to places where there was need and to those who she could help. She too lived the message of Jesus to Peter, stretching out her arms and being taken places she would not have planned to go. Her life was not easy, Because of her faith in the gospel she lived hardship, doing good work, but none-the-less her life was not easy, or lived according to some childhood plan.

Mother Theresa, a woman living in poor India recognizes those who had no voice, first those dying in the streets and then others who could hardly survive. Click To Tweet

Jean Vanier, a Christian French Canadian was searching for a community where he could live the gospel message. He had hope for something quiet and peaceful. Through the listening to God he began a gospel mission with a few other men who had no voice and were locked away, they were disabled, put away with the mentally insane, more like in prison than living. He saw their suffering and created a home with a few of these men at first. This became the first home on the way to more than one-hundred and fifty communities with many homes around the world, called l’Arche. L’arche (French for the ark) is where people with disability and friends come together to make home that live the gospel message. Jean didn’t start out trying to create a Christian movement but his desire to live the gospel message took him to places God needed him to go. He was another who stretched his arms as an open yes to God and was led. It was not an easy life but certainly one worth living for the gospel. Today l’Arche communities continue to be places of love, where the gospel is alive. No one has it easy, there are hardships, but through the mercy of God there is love and life is better for all who join.

Today l’Arche communities continue to be places of love, where the gospel is alive. No one has it easy, there are hardships, but through the mercy of God there is love and life is better for all who join. Click To Tweet

Oscar Romero, a priest and bishop in El Salvador began his life dedicated to the gospels, to help where he could and bring the church’s teaching and sacraments to those in the parishes. He was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador and became an active voice for the poor and an enemy to those fighting for power. Romero was beloved of the poor and they would flock to his Masses a the Cathedral where he spoke as one of the poor. He had a very popular radio program where he shared his sermons and spoke out against the injustices done by those fighting for power, particularly naming abuse, torture, murders and disappearances. Romero was not an advocate for those in need he became their brother. It was not the life he intended when he responded to a vocational call, but it is the gospel life God needed him to live. He was martyred for speaking out and today is still seen as the unofficial patron saint of the America’s. The gospel message was important to Romero, it led him to use his voice to try and help others and led him to places he did not intend to go, including to his martyrdom.

Oscar Romero a priest and bishop in El Salvador began his life dedicated to the gospels, to help where he could and bring the church’s teaching and sacraments to those in the parishes. Click To Tweet

There is a hardship in the gospel, as followers we are likely to end up places we don’t know and doing things we weren’t planning when we started in life. We believe Jesus knew his journey would lead to the cross, and while this is true as he lived his three year ministry, I imagine his private life at home was like any other. As he prayed and began to understand the plan God had for his life, he knew it would lead to the cross. In fact Jesus tells all of his followers they too must pick up their own cross. He said to his disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) The cross is at the heart of the gospel message.

The cross is God’s message of love. Jesus lived and died on the cross not so that God’s mind could be changed about us but so that we could change our minds about God. God is willing to suffer this excruciating death to say, I love you. Jesus arms stretched where he did not want to go, but willingly went to prove God is a God who loves us so much.

Jesus lived and died on the cross not so that God’s mind could be changed about us but so that we could change our minds about God. Click To Tweet

Jesus is no stranger to hardship for the gospel. His life was one lived completely for others, in fact coming to human life as “Son of Man” lets us know God knows our struggle and joys. Jesus is not a stranger to human history, in life Jesus lived rejection, suffering, passion and death, as we all might experience in our lives. But for Jesus hardship doesn’t defeat him, evil does not overtake him, human pain does not break him. Rather on the cross he transforms suffering and hardship, he proves the cross becomes redemptive.

Jesus is no stranger to hardship for the gospel. His life was one lived completely for others, in fact coming to human life as “Son of Man” lets us know God knows our struggle and joys. Click To Tweet

Richard Rohr speaking about Jesus’ redemption and being “the Savior of the world,” (see John 4:42) says “Jesus is in effect saying, ‘This is how evil is transformed into good!. I am going to take the worst thing and turn it into the best things, so you will never be victimized, destroyed or helpless again! I am giving YOU the victory over all death!’”

With arms stretched we are called to hold together two sides. We are not called to hate the accuser, and we are not called to ignore the accuser. We are to hold the accuser in love. We are not called to hate the abortionist, or the mother who thinks she has no choice, and the father who makes himself irrelevant in the abortion, we are called to love them and through our love transform them. We are not called to hate someone who doesn’t hold our political views, we are called to love them and recognize we both need to change to transform our country in to a positive force in the world. We are not called to hate the lone gunman who shoots up our schools, we are called to love him and hope to transform him. The gospel message is a hardship, we are stretched on the cross like Jesus and we are looking at others that we don’t think we can stand and we declare our love for them.

The gospel message is a hardship, we are stretched on the cross like Jesus and we are looking at others that we don’t think we can stand and we declare our love for them. Click To Tweet

Loving someone who does exactly what we hate is a cross, it is suffering, it is hardship and it is what we are called to do and who we are called to be as Christians. We can rail against those doing evil, or even those with a little different point of view than we have, but by doing so we often become the hatred we are railing against. To fight so hard against abortion can turn us into a killer of those who do it. Perhaps we do not physically kill but by thinking so little of them they become dead to us. It is no less murder than if we use a gun and shoot them. And the one we hate, is loved by and a child of God. When we fight the things we hate with our own hatred for them, we become the very hate we hate. It is only by becoming the crucified victim that we can love those who we might be against or who might be against what we believe.

Loving someone who does exactly what we hate is a cross, it is suffering, it is hardship and it is what we are called to do and who we are called to be as Christians. Click To Tweet

The hardship of the gospel is standing with the one crucified and saying we can do better. If we stop fighting one another, if we stop shouting at one another, if we stop pointing our fingers at one another, we can stand together and love one another. Then we can help each other be resurrected, we can create new life through our love.

When we fight the things we hate with our own hatred for them, we become the very hate we hate. Click To Tweet

The cross is mercy because it transforms. God is not condemning, God is not hating, God is not judging, he is standing with arms outstretched saying come to me and I will give you rest. It is why on the cross Jesus says, forgive them for they know not what they are doing. When we hate, when we accuse, when we decide the other is no good, we do not know what we are doing. It is the God of mercy who will teach us how to be on the cross and make a difference like those apostles before us, like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa, Jean Vanier and Oscar Romero. It is through the hardship of the gospel that the mercy of God is most prevalent.

It is through the hardship of the gospel that the mercy of God is most prevalent. Click To Tweet

Mercy

The hardship of the gospel leading to a message of mercy can be difficult to understand. But the cross is mercy. The cross of Jesus is an act of mercy, our carrying our cross every day requires God’s mercy to be a true loving act. It is difficult to be insulted and not want to return insult. It is difficult to be accused and not want to defend ourselves. But it is God’s mercy that says we don’t need to defend ourselves. We should rather use insult and accusation as a chance to love others. It is a cross we will bear, it is a hardship for the gospel, but the cross then becomes an instrument of transformation. Bearing our cross changes others to open their arms to be led by by God to places they didn’t plan to go.

We should rather use insult and accusation as a chance to love others. It is a cross we will bear, it is a hardship for the gospel, but the cross then becomes an instrument of transformation. Click To Tweet

 

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