Preparing for Worship: Surrendering to Mercy

Preparing for Worship: Surrendering to Mercy

John Haralson   •   September 1, 2016

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

- Jesus, John 12:24

When I was in college, the Marlboro Man (first image) captured my imagination in a powerful way. For those of you a little younger than me, the Marlboro Man was a mythological American cowboy figure that was used in cigarette ads in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. 

What appealed to me was the picture of strength he projected into the world. Set against the backdrop of the wild, majestic and unpredictable American West (more brilliant use of mythology), the Marlboro Man was strong, self-reliant, and confident. Finding himself in a beautiful yet harsh setting, he was capable and steady enough to make it in the world. As an insecure 20-year old, I found this mesmerizing.

One of the telling things about the Marlboro Man is that he was, more often than not, alone. He was not a communal figure. Sure, he had cowboy colleagues; but they always appeared to be more like acquaintances than friends. At the end of the day, he was alone in the world. And, you get the sense that he wanted it that way. 

Another word to describe the Marlboro Man’s path through life is autonomous.

This is exactly what Jesus is getting at in John 12 when he uses the word alone. It means someone who has protected themselves from surrender to God and others. It is a self-reliant, self-directed, and self-protective person. There may be some contact with others and God going on in their life, but nothing really pierces through the fortified, individualistic shell.

Herein lies our dilemma. Autonomy sings to us a sweet siren song. It promises us the good life we deeply desire―strength, respect, and flourishing. However, Jesus communicates quite clearly that this path that seems so alluring and appealing is, in fact, the path of destruction. 

Tellingly, here is a picture of one of the actors that portrayed the Marlboro Man later in life when he was in a hospital dying of lung cancer. The life he had promised and sold to others was not a good path after all. It wound up destroying him. (See second picture)

So, what are we to do now? How does God triumph over our layers upon layers of self-protection, fear, arrogance, and shame? Does he crush us with his power, bending our fingers backward until we yield to him? To listen to some professing Christians, you get the impression that this is the way God works in the world, twisting our arms with guilt and fear.

Thankfully, the gospel tells a different story. It tells a story of a powerful God who does, indeed, triumph over his enemiespeople like you and me who persist in our rebellion towards God and our love affair with autonomy. Yet, he triumphs over us and our sins not through brute force, but through his love and mercy.

And today, he comes to us in love and grace whispering to us that he does not seek our harm. Instead, he offers us life in his Son.

This week: Surrender to Mercy, Psalm 57, I Samuel 24

Liturgy is here

I hope to worship with you.

Warmly in Christ,


PS Don’t forget that we are only having one worship service this Sunday (9am) because of the Labor Day holiday. Fall schedule resumes on September 11th.