Mercy - Saint James Church

Mercy

For the last several weeks, St. James has been in the middle of a sermon series on the Beatitudes.  The Beatitudes are the “rules” given by Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount. Examples include “blessed are the mournful because they will be comforted” and “blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.”  The unusual thing about this sermon series is that ordinary parishioners have delivered the messages. Pastor James doled out each Beatitude to regular folk and asked each speaker to share what was on his or her heart.  Unfortunately, I’ve been out of church for several weekends and have missed a few. But I was very fortunate to catch Megan speak today on mercy. The full Beatitude is: Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.  It was fascinating to hear Megan speak on the topic because she is an attorney and thus has a distinct point of reference. I took away three points to ponder from her comments: 1) mercy is only easy when we think people deserve it; 2) a lack of mercy is one of the devil’s defining characteristics; and 3) those of us with the most ordinary sins often find being merciful the most difficult.

 

Megan made the first point clear by retelling a Bible parable using a modern example.  It was the parable of the master who forgives the debts of his worker only to find out the same worker refused to forgive the debts of someone else.  I’ve heard the story many times and always found the worker to be so hypocritical. When Megan retold the story, she envisioned the master as a CEO who forgives a student loan debt and the worker as a friend refusing to forgive a gambling bet.  Suddenly I felt hypocritical. I realized that my mercy is reserved for the deserving, which is perhaps not that merciful at all. I sympathized with the hard working employee who needs to pay off a student loan, but had only contempt for the friend who wastes hard earned money gambling.  But the whole point of mercy is that you forgive or show leniency simply because you can! The point is NOT that it is deserved. Giving someone what they deserve is NOT mercy. It is justice. In which case, I’m ashamed to say, that I’m not sure I have EVER been merciful. I am loathe to see injustice, unkindness, or bad behavior go unpunished.  I am often “soft” but only because I tend to rationalize such actions as the product of genetics or environment and therefore undeserving of real punishment.  But if I think you deserve it, I am brutal.  Hypocrite. What have I done that the God of the universe should love me just because God can?  If God’s own mercy is reserved for those who show it, I am in trouble.

 

If the devil is the personification of evil, it should then come as no surprise that one of the roles of the devil in the Bible is as the Accuser.  Accusing, finding flaws, making judgments, these are the roles the devil plays in addition to enticing us to sin. Funny how we, or at least I, never focused on those as key characteristics.  On the contrary, “good” people and the church as a whole have made them an art form and lifted them up as holy. But this clearly contradicts the mercy we have been shown and that we are called to exhibit.  God died on a cross so that our sins might be forgiven. Instead of paying it forward, we spend a good deal of our time looking for the sins of others, lording it over them so that we can feel superior, and building God’s kingdom by excluding those we don’t feel belong.  Hypocrites. If God’s own mercy is reserved for those who show it, the church itself is also in trouble.

 

Finally, why is it that the luckiest of us all, the ones of us who have made the least mistakes and so have the most to be thankful for, find it hardest to be merciful?  The self-righteous are the biggest sinners of all because we think we need God the least. We imagine that our minor peccadilloes don’t really need forgiveness. We are Christians for any number of reasons, but not because we come crawling to the cross battered and bruised and begging for salvation.  But who is the real follower? The one for show who follows when convenient or the one who knows she owes her very life to the redeemer? If sin is what separates us from God and from each other, who is the bigger sinner: the self-righteous or the self-condemned? It is the “garden variety” sinners among us who are actually the biggest sinners of all.  We are the least merciful because we attribute our goodness to ourselves and blame those who don’t have our imagined self-control. Hypocrites. If God’s own mercy is reserved for those who show it, the very good among us are in the most trouble of all.

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