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Where Is the Mercy?

September 23, 2017


At the end of August, we made our first trip up the Old Fall River Road in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Between mile marker 5 & 6 we made a stop to explore the Ranger cabin and meadow. This beautiful doe was making her way across the meadow and through the trees. We stopped and simply watched as she watched us for a bit before heading by on whatever her mission was for the day.

Three weeks later, we again traveled up the same road to see the colors as the Aspen have begun to turn. On that trip, we encountered (from a safe distance, mind you… it is rut after all!) a Bull Elk and members of his harem making their way across the same meadow.

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It has been a rough summer and we were finally taking a much needed break to simply have some Sabbath time in our backyard. Sadly we have not been able to enjoy much time in the park this spring and summer. Now fall is upon us and either rain or snow is in the forecast!

The time spent with the Elk and the Deer were a blessing. It was also a reminder to us that in the midst of so much heartache and loss in the life of the congregation and in our own personal lives, God is still with us and loves us. There is mercy in the midst of exhaustion and heartache for all of God’s children!

So how does this tie into the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday? In a way it does… you see, the reading from Matthew 20:1-16 is about the laborers in the vineyard and a dispute about what was considered fair pay for fair work. The story is about God’s response when we feel like things aren’t going the way they should be going. Right now, I am grieving as I walk with good people who have had some pretty awful things happen to them. Life, illness, tragedy, have struck hard and very close to home. Is it fair? No! Is God there? Yes!

Jesus tells the parable about the laborers in the vineyard. The owner went out each hour to find more laborers for the work that had to be done. When it came to the end of the day, the laborers who worked the full day got their full pay as promised by the landowner. When the latecomers went to get their pay, they were shocked to get a full day’s pay even though they had not worked the full day!

Full day’s wage for a few hours work? Really? They don’t deserve it! They haven’t earned it! The landowners response was essentially to call them out. Didn’t I promise you a full day’s pay for a full day’s work? Didn’t I keep my promise to you? I didn’t tell the others how much I was going to pay them for a partial day’s labor but I am certain they expected to get paid less than you. It isn’t your concern as to how merciful or generous I am with what I give away! The last time I checked, it wasn’t yours to give away in the first place!

We live in difficult times, dear reader. At times the temptation is either to throw in the towel and give up or to lash out at others in anger and frustration as life unfolds! We lash out when life doesn’t go the way we want it to. We forget in the middle of it all that God is with us every step of the way. God is with us every hour of the day. God is in the midst of the Valley of the Shadows with us.

To be honest, right now I am exhausted and grieving. I have seen too many bad things happening to very good people whom I love. I want to lash out at God just as the workers lashed out at the landowner. It’s not fair! Where is the mercy?! Yet when I stop… pause… breathe… pray… listen… I see God walking with us through these shadows and valleys of darkness.

There are no easy answers when you are walking through the shadows with folks. Sometimes the best thing I can do as a pastor is to simply be with my flock. Be with them… hold them… listen to them… simply be present in the midst of it all.

The Season of Peace (the month of September in the Presbyterian Church (USA) calendar) has been a difficult season. The world stage is far from encouraging and the difficult events we are walking through locally are draining. Yet in the midst of it all, as we pray, sing, celebrate Communion, and worship in community I find hope. Are we fixing all of the problems? Is everything that is going on fair? As I see it, the fairness and the mercy is seen in God’s presence with us on the journey. God’s presence and love isn’t earned, it is freely given.

That, dear reader, is where the mercy is. That God walks with us through the Valley of the Shadows. God is not a fair-weather God or a miser who only walks with us when we have earned it. God is with us always… just as Jesus promised… I am with you always! (Matthew 28:20)

  1. “Is it fair? No! Is God there? Yes!” With these words you have encapsulated the life of faith itself. Our dependency drives us to our knees and from there we see and sense a loving Hand at work in our heart. Do we have all the answers we crave? No! Is God faithful to love, care and save? Yes, oh yes! Michael, may you and your community find soul solace and comfort in God’s presence, as you seek to rest in the mystery of the not-yet-but-soon-to-come manifestation of His Kingdom we are living in. Bless you, Brother. 💜

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