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The world could use more mercy. I’m tempted to say “these days” and often we’re tempted to think our own days are the worst. I was reminded by a good friend recently that the problems in the world of which we speak and with which we live have always been problems in the world – right back to the crowd that sat at Jesus’ feet when he said these words. The world needs mercy. Listen to these words from The Merchant of Venice:
“The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. 'Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomes The thronèd monarch better than his crown. His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings, But mercy is above this sceptered sway. It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings. It is an attribute to God himself.
Throughout these weeks we are considering the Beatitudes as our invitation to the kingdom of Heaven, our invitation to participation or communion in the life of God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit. We are making an invitation this morning to come around Jesus’ table, just as we did when we started this series 4 weeks ago. This is fitting. It’s fitting for us to look back four weeks, as many readers and interpreters of the Beatitudes through the years have made associations between 5 and 1, 6 and 2, 7, and 3, 8, and 4. We’ll speak about these connections over the coming four weeks. When we looked at the first Beatitude, we heard this about the poverty of spirit – “Poverty of spirit is my awareness that I need God’s help and mercy more than I need anything else.”
I need God’s help and mercy more than I need anything else.
Remember the image of empty hands that we talked about when we started? The image returns here today I want us to think of it in a slightly different form. We come to the Lord’s table - the table of mercy - which is hosted by the one who is mercy, and we come with an open hand, to the one who meets us with an open, outstretched hand, to the one who saves us with a strong hand and outstretched arm, whose love endures forever.
What claim do you have on God? What claim do I have on God? What claim do I have to make before God about myself? This is where we must start. This is where we must continually return. I have no claim to make on God. In me, I find no good thing, and if you think I’m being overly harsh on myself, you don’t know me like I know me. Of course, you also know I have the Spirit of God in me. The Spirit of mercy. Paul puts it like this in Romans 7:18 – “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh, I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” I come to this table with an empty, outstretched hand. I’m not clinging on to anything I might bring. Any righteousness of my own. Someone has said “One of the dangers of attempting to live a righteous life is that self-righteousness is always just a breath away. How easy it is to list the sins I haven’t committed, to catalogue the sins of others, to fill pages with my own good deeds.” To say “Thank you God that I am not like those adulterers or addicts or protestors or politicians or whomever else we may look down upon. I don’t break laws and I give away 10% of my money and come to church semi-regularly and I’m glad I’m not like that guy who sits at the back every time I come here.” Meanwhile, the guy at the back is crying out “Lord have mercy on me.”
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
How unlike a “how-to” list are the Beatitudes. How unlike a “do A to get result B” despite what we might think of this one at first glance. Jesus is not saying that the mercy we receive from God is dependent on how merciful we are. How could this be? How could we ever match the mercy of God? God is grace, God is unmerited love and favour. God’s mercy is as high as the heavens, as infinite as infinity. “Your steadfast love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens.” (Ps 35:6) The word often translated as mercy in the OT is hesed, steadfast love, or mercy. It starts with God. We start with acknowledging that the number one most important thing that we need in this world is the mercy of God. Hesed – tenderness, kindness, gracious lovingkindness, steadfast love. Moses asked for God’s glory. God told Moses he would pass by as Moses stood in the cleft of a rock. God’s hand would cover Moses as God went by because no one could see God and live. God would remove his hand, however, so Moses could see God’s back. As God passed by, this is what God said - “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
This is our God. Do you know this God? This is God’s table to which we’re invited. It’s the table of mercy.
This is a different kind of God. Remember the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham discovered that the God of Israel was unlike surrounding gods who needed to be placated by sacrifice (child sacrifice). Abraham discovered that God would provide the sacrifice. The God of Israel was unlike the surrounding gods. Abraham, who was “raised in a culture of ruthless blood-drenched gods had encountered the merciful God.” Let us ask ourselves about the blood that is required by the gods of the world – the gods of nationalism, individualism, consumerism, of money. What kind of blood do those gods require? Oftentimes it’s not our own blood and oftentimes it’s happening far enough away from us for it to affect us, or for us to even be aware of it. Make no mistake no, those gods we bow down to our drenched in blood. To follow Christ is to live in a different story. At the table of mercy, we’re reminded that God has provided the sacrifice. The Way has been made in Jesus. God’s mercy has made the way. God’s mercy brings order out of disorder.
The call on the lives of those who gather around God’s Table is to reflect the ways of our Father. The call is to come to God’s Table and in doing to learn how the family acts, in the same way, that children learn how the family acts from those who are older as they sit around the table and watch. And so “Blessed are the merciful.” As we’ve been saying through these weeks, there are both spiritual and material implications to us being bearers of God’s mercy in the world. Sharing in the mercy of God as we do, means that we share God’s mercy with everyone. The more we have a share or participate in mercy, the more we participate in the life of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Open-handed, merciful living means seeking the good of our neighbour in every way. Someone has said this – “Jesus declares blessed those who ‘out of brotherly love consider another’s misery their own, who are pained at the misfortunes of a neighbour, who shed tears for the calamities that strike other people, who feed the needy out of their own wealth, clothe the naked, warn the erring, teach the ignorant, forgive the sinner—in short, who use whatever resources they have to lift up and restore others.’”
We hear about acts of mercy in the courts. There was a story at the end of last year out of Colorado about a trucker, Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, who had been handed a 110-year sentence (the mandatory minimum term required by state law) after a conviction on vehicular homicide and other charges. Four people had been killed in a fiery crash in 2019 when Aguilera-Mederos’ brakes failed. After calls for clemency, the Colorado governor commuted the sentence to 10 years.
Examples needn’t be as life-changing and far-reaching. I’ve told you how sitting with these Beatitudes has changed me. You can’t be reading about mercy and pondering mercy and praying about mercy without your life being affected. In the middle of the afternoon during the great blizzard of 2022, I was out shovelling. There’s a slight grade outside our house and people often get stuck on it. A little way down the street, a woman driving alone in a Yaris had become stuck. Cars were backing up behind her, someone honked. People were standing around with shovels watching. She got out of her car, borrowed a shovel and started to try and dig herself out. What a terrible situation to be in! A man got out of his truck not to help, but to say “What are you doing trying to come down this street in that car?!” Not helpful. I couldn’t not help, though I knew it would mean shovelling and pushing about 100 metres or so to try and get her to the top of the grade. I ended up leaving her there as there was a car coming the wrong way down our street (which is one way) that was also stuck. There were others to help her though. I say this not to describe my own virtue, but to make the point that for the follower of Christ, we know something about what it means to be stuck in a situation from which we were unable to extricate ourselves, don’t we?
For the church to be the community of God, it is essential that we complete the circle of God’s mercy from God to us to one another. We’re talking in church right now about having honest conversations- conversations in holy honesty as we heard at one of our CBOQ Revitalization meetings. Let those conversations be characterized by mercy, care and forgiveness.
It’s a big deal. Twice in Matthew, Jesus refers to Hosea 6:6, where we read “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Jesus refers to this first twice when he’s speaking to those who aren’t remembering mercy. Once in Matt 9 where Pharisees complain that Jesus is sitting in Matthew’s house with tax-collectors and sinners. “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” In Matt 12 Pharisees are complaining that Jesus’ followers are picking grain to eat on the Sabbath. “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” Do not let feelings about who should be excluded get in the way of mercy. Do not let the letter of the law get in the way of heavier matters of the law, like mercy.
For they will receive mercy. We’ll know the mercy of God. We may even experience mercy from others, though there’s no guarantee (Jesus himself received little mercy from others in the end). I don’t believe Jesus is talking about a quid pro quo here – show mercy to get God’s mercy, don’t show mercy, don’t get God’s mercy. That would seem to rule out grace. It’s serious though. I would say that if we have truly experienced the mercy of God, the forgiveness of God in our hearts, then mercy will flow from us. For us to lack mercy may mean that we don’t know the mercy of God. The assuring thing here is, as someone has said, “God shows mercy to the undeserving… even when we fail to show mercy to one another, we can hope that God’s mercy exceeds our mercilessness, and pardons even that.”
Finally, we know that mercy is made known in a meal. In Matthew 14, Jesus saw a large crowd and had compassion for them. He cured their sick, we read. When evening came and the disciples told Jesus to send the crowd away so they could go buy food for themselves, Jesus told his followers “You give them something to eat.” God’s mercy was made known in a meal.
May we come to know more of God’s mercy this morning as we gather around a meal. The open hand with which we come to the Lord’s Table is the same one we are called to offer others. May God make his mercy known to us and may God’s mercy through like rivers from us. May this be true for all of us. Amen