Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Bearing with One Another - 4. Three Movements of Mercy

Lord have mercy
Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy

The appeal for mercy is a recurring theme in our worship. Pay attention next Sunday to how many times mercy occurs in the liturgy. Mercy is an central theme because Christians understand that at the heart of everything is One who is Mercy. It is also a central because we are aware of our need for mercy. Certainly, we need God’s mercy. But our relationships or communities only flourish by our mutual extending of mercy to one another. This is true when things are going well. It is all the more true when they are not.  It is true when we mostly agree. It is especially true when we do not see eye to eye.

On Ash Wednesday, we were reminded of our need for mercy as we heard again, “Remember that you are but dust and to dust you shall return.” 

In the last post, I suggested that one aspect of grace was the sheer giftedness of our being and of creation as well as the gift of God's love and, indeed, the gift to us of God's very self. Mercy is the other aspect of grace. On Ash Wednesday we read or heard Psalm 103 which addresses three movements of mercy.

Mercy = Empathy

We are but dust and to dust we shall return. We humans are beings of wonder and beauty. Created in the image of God we are creatures of courage and creativity. But, we are also finite, fallible, fragile, and fearful. We can be confused and anxious. We bruise and break and bleed. And, sooner or later, we, and those we love, will die – sometimes peacefully; often, not so much. “Our days are like the grass; we flourish like a flower of the field. When the wind goes over it, it is gone, and its place shall know it no more. We are but dust and to dust we shall return.”

The good news of God’s mercy is that he understands. “For he himself knows whereof we are made; he remembers that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14). And “As a father cares for his children, so does the LORD care for those who fear him.” We are but dust. “But the merciful goodness of the LORD endures for ever.” Learning to rest in the assurance of that merciful goodness is what the life of faith is about.

Assured of God’s merciful goodness, we can extend a similar mercy to others. We can seek to attend carefully to the realities of their lives. We can patiently seek to understand their perspectives. We can reverently listen to their stories. We will remember that everyone we encounter is bearing secret burdens (as well as secret joys).

Mercy = Healing

We bruise and break and bleed. We are subject to disease, accidents, and aging. We hurt each other – physically, emotionally, spiritually. All of us bear wounds and scares of things done to us and things left undone. Our relationships and communities are also often fractured and in need of healing.
In Psalm 103:3, we are assured that God “heals all your infirmities; He redeems your life from the grave and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness; He satisfies you with good things, and your youth is renewed like an eagle's.” That is a hopeful thought. 

One of the most distinctive things about Jesus’ ministry was his healing. Our wholeness and harmony matter to the Mercy at the heart of all as embodied in Jesus and demonstrated in his mercy. 

We are not guaranteed full healing this side of the realization of the kingdom of God. But, we do expect to experience a foretaste of that healing in this life.

Having received the assurance of God’s intention to heal us and having experienced a foretaste of that mercy through Jesus, we can extend similar healing mercy to others. We can seek to be a healing presence to the woundedness of others. We can seek to be peacemakers in the midst of broken relationships and fractured communities.

Mercy = Forgiveness

We need forgiveness. As we pray when confessing our sins, “We have not loved God with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.” We ignore and disobey God. We ignore the needs of others. We have been wounded by others. And we have done our share of the wounding. We confess Jesus as the way, but fail to live the way Jesus is.

But, God, who is Mercy “forgives all your sins” (Psalm 103:3).

The Psalm continues,

8 The LORD is full of compassion and mercy,
slow to anger and of great kindness.

9 He will not always accuse us,
nor will he keep his anger for ever.

10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.

11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.

12 As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our sins from us.

When we know God is eager to forgive our sins like the father of the Prodigal Son, when we have received that forgiveness and experienced it in the deep places of our hearts, we can begin to forgive others as we have been forgiven (Colossians 3:13).  Such forgiveness addresses all the slights, offenses, and hurts we receive at the hands of others. But, it also is also part of forbearing with others – forgiving them for being other than we are. It might even mean celebrating that otherness.

We are but dust and to dust we shall return. We need understanding, healing and, forgiveness. God is full of mercy. Our need and God’s mercy meet in the person of Jesus Christ. And, most especially, they meet on the cross. We will gather at the foot of the cross of mercy in the next post.


Bearing with One Another

1. Broken Love

2. A Life Worthy of the Calling

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