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From Entrapment to Freedom

Vicious cycle. No way out. Can’t win for losing. Round in circles. Stuck.

Darned if you do, darned if you don’t. Between a rock and a hard place. Trapped. Entrapment. It’s where our gospel for this weekend starts.

We meet Jesus in Matthew 22:15-20 with competing forces (Pharisees and Herodians) joining together to entrap Jesus in what he says. The miracles, healings, and wisdom teachings have created crowds proclaiming him as King, Messiah, the Chosen One of God. Jesus has proven to be a force to be reckoned with. Jesus is a threat. The tensions are high and so are the stakes.

We are also in a time where tensions are high, there are competing forces seeking power, we see played out efforts to trap people in their words. The events of the past few years of Jesus’ life and ministry are coming to a climax. The religious collaborators to the Roman Empire are under fire to stop this Jesus. They plot to entrap him. To prove him wrong they will put him to the test. Jesus was tested before.

At the beginning of his public ministry Jesus goes into the wilderness. For forty days he is fasting in the wilderness, preparing. After the forty days the devil tempts Jesus. The devil is luring Jesus to pursue personal power, gain property, and see prestige Matthew 4 Jesus will have none of that. Following his time in the wilderness he is now prepared to teach, to heal, to reveal God in this new way. Jesus’ ministry begins.

This week as we hear some of what takes place in the last week of Jesus’ life, I invite you to remember some of what Jesus said as he started his journey.

In the fifth chapter of Matthew Jesus sets the tone to his ministry turning things upside down. Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God…love your enemies… it is a chapter that speaks to the issues of the day which are being debated in the religious circles. Jesus calls for actions and intentions by his followers that are unexpected. It is this teaching and Jesus’ actions that will get him executed as a political enemy of the state three years later.

The stage is set early on when Jesus teaches and those who hear it are astounded (Matthew 7:23). He warns those who follow him they will also face trials, tribulations and troubles.

In Matthew 6 Jesus instructs his disciples about how to pray, also about fasting and almsgiving. That chapter finishes with him telling them to not worry. Matthew 6 has the Lord’s prayer. This is Jesus’ prayer. Part of it is; “Do not bring us to the time of trial, deliver us from evil”. Now it is that time for Jesus. Aware of their malice, Jesus answered their question about paying taxes. They were amazed. This trap didn’t work- they left. As we continue in Matthew’s gospel others will take their place seeking to ensnare Jesus in his words and in his teaching as the plot to kill Jesus continues. Reading about this time of trial/temptation/entrapment got me thinking about Jesus praying. He both taught us how to pray and modeled praying for us and his disciples. His prayer and his actions were connected.

Over the past couple of months I have been intentional in my daily practice of Centering Prayer . It is a both/and, of deepening my connection to God and challenging me to let this prayer inform my actions. These past seven months of pandemic have challenged me. At times it feels like the sort of vicious cycle, no way out, you can’t win for losing, life going round in circles….pandemic fatigue, political tensions, all the unknowns and uncertainties.

To pause and practice prayer letting it inform my actions, I am hearing Jesus speaks words of wisdom. Give to the emperor what belongs to the emperor . Give to God what belongs to God. So this week the question is, “what belongs to God?”. My first response was “everything” and then I paused. My fear, anger, malice, self-will, self-seeking, and resentments those are mine. I can surrender them to God but God didn’t give them to me. They were created with the free will I have received- I do not always use my freedom well. So now to give those to God to heal, repair and restore me. It takes intention.

Taking Jesus’ words to heart we get to live as those who not only pray “Thy will be done” - we get to live as those who are open to taking the Spirit inspired actions so that we live by God’s will not our own self-will. We become willing to let go. In this letting go— often that is the very moment when we become unstuck, we are given a break from the ride on the merry-go-round that is a vicious cycle, we are set free.

That is the true freedom that escaped the disciple/followers of the Pharisees and the Herodians. They looked for security in a government, in a temple, in a role, in something or someone other than God. They wanted life on their terms, a Messiah who would fit their expectations.

Jesus amazed them. In his presence, they heard his teachings for he taught not as one of them but as one who had authority. He spoke truth to the powers of the day. He was not trapped by them, instead he invited them to be set free from reliance upon anything or anyone other than the God who created them in God’s image

This week, as I have read this gospel, I have been considered what it means to not be conformed to this world but transformed. Our part is to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit to transform us. Prayer can transform us. Service for the sake of our neighbor can transform us. Worship can transform us. Generosity can transform us…. Even as Jesus replies- he does not return "like with like". The disciples of the Pharisees and Herodians depart from their encounter with Jesus amazed

We begin our intentional invitation to stewardship this week. Giving to God what is God’s- our hearts, our minds, our lives. We belong to God. Stewardship, at its best, reminds us of this and invites us to live this way intentionally. We get to be faithful stewards of all our blessings. We have a theme of “let’s face it” for Stewardship 2021. Set free by Jesus to see ourselves as belonging to God, as cared for and created by God, as those who are blessed to be a blessing together— we can face 2021 full of faith, hope and love.

Let’s face it, the free will God has given to us is best used by living in a way that “Thy will” is done on earth as it is in heaven. To live this way is a path of freedom. So together, we get to listen and learn, seek and find, grow and be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit as we surrender, let go, and let God do the leading, guiding and directing.

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