Friday, August 5, 2016

Becoming a People of God's Mercy & Delight, Part 2

Obstacles to Experiencing God’s Delight

We are made for delight. But our sinfulness, brokenness, and weakness prevent us from seeing or entering into that delight, delighting in God, in his creation, or in other persons created in God’s image. I know I am not all that delightful much of the time. And I do not always think about, talk about, or treat others with mercy and delight.

Parable of the Lost Chalice

There was once a beautiful, priceless silver chalice engraved with gold and decorated with precious gems. It was an invaluable and cherished sacred vessel in a medieval cathedral. It bore the Blessed Sacrament of Communion Wine. But the cathedral was raided by Vikings and the chalice was carried off. The Viking who stole it buried it with other plunder intending to return to claim it another day. And it was lost. Centuries later when it was discovered, the chalice was crushed by the weight of the ground in which it was buried. It was tarnished and encrusted with dirt and rust. It was scratched and dented. It was missing some of the gems.

But the one who uncovered it recognized its worth. He knew it was an object of inherent beauty. And he set about repairing and restoring it.

The world is that chalice. Each of us is that chalice.

We are in great need of repair and restoration. We need transfiguration. We cannot fix ourselves. But the One who made us knows our worth and our inherent beauty. That One delights in and cherishes us. God desires to redeem, repair, and restore us.

We need mercy

We are finite, fragile, fallible, and fearful. We bruise, we break, we bleed. We are sinful and broken and weak. Too often we fail to see or share God’s mercy and delight. Rather than renouncing “the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God” (Holy Baptism, Book of Common Prayer, p. 302), we turn away or, worse, we collaborate with those powers. We contribute to the damaging of the chalice that is the world. And the chalice that is other people. And the chalice that is ourselves. Rather than renouncing “all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God”(Holy Baptism, Book of Common Prayer, p. 302), we indulge, rationalize, or excuse them. We contribute to the damaging of the chalice that we, ourselves, are meant to be. God created us for delight. God created us to be sacramental bearers the Wine of Communion with God and one another. But, we are bent out of shape. We are a mess and we have made a mess of the world.

Our world needs mercy. We need mercy. Thanks be to God, in sending Jesus and giving the Holy Spirit, God has lavished his mercy upon us. Like a fine art restorer, God desires to clean the chalice and bend it back into shape, restoring it to its original beauty.

Three Aspects of Mercy

Mercy is sometimes reduced to forgiveness – just maybe God will not punish us as we deserve. Forgiveness is indeed a fundamental aspect of mercy. Thank God. But it is about more than that.

Psalm 103 points out three aspects of mercy.

1. God knows us

In Psalm 103:14 we read, “For he himself knows whereof we are made; he remembers that we are but dust.” God pays attention to us knows us as we are. We see this even more clearly in the incarnation.

In Jesus, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

One aspect of mercy is deep understanding, empathy, and solidarity. Jesus demonstrates that mercy as Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).  The Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14). God knows us, understands our weakness. God knows whereof we are made and is patient with us.

If we come to know that, we can become merciful, too. We can seek to know each other and be patient with one another and ourselves.

2. God forgives us

“He forgives all your sins.” (Psalm 103:3)

We know we need forgiveness. We know we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We know we have contributed to the denting of the chalice. Forgiveneness is what God offers. In Jesus, “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)

If we have received the mercy of God’s forgiveness, we can forgive as the Lord has forgiven us.

3. God heals us

In Psalm 103:3 we also hear that God “heals all your infirmities.” Each of us is broken in one way or another. We are the chalice, smashed and lost. If we are honest we know that each of us is among the walking wounded. We don’t have to look hard to see that brokenness in our own families and among our friends. And the world is broken by war and hatred, greed and sorrow.

One of the things Jesus was about more than anything else was healing. “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” (Matthew 9:35)

That healing includes our transformation, indeed, our transfiguration.

That healing includes reconciliation and the repair of broken relationships.

Toward the end of the Book of Revelation we hear the promise of a greater healing, “Through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2). The whole world is destined for healing and transfiguration.

As we experience the mercy of God’s healing we can be a healing and reconciling presence to those we encounter and in the world. We can begin now to live in light of what we believe the end will be.

Becoming a People of God’s Mercy and Delight

We are meant to delight in what God delights in and to extend mercy to others, to be agents of God’s mercy and delight in a world hungry and thirsty for both. Our Lord commanded us to “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

But, we are neglectful, distractible, and disobedient. Because we do not attend to God’s mercy and delight, we are restless, anxious, bored, angry, impatient, contentious, lacking inner peace, etc. And we find it hard to delight in one another or to extend mercy to one another.

The Church is meant to be communities of people who see each other with the eyes of
God, who welcome each other with mercy and delight. As the body of Christ we are called to be a people of God’s mercy and delight in the way of Jesus.

How do we become this kind of people? We start by repenting and calling on the Holy Spirit to work transformation on us. We cannot fix ourselves. But we can attend more seriously to the things in our own hearts and lives that get in the way of experiencing more of God’s delight, the things in our own hearts and lives that keep us from delighting in God, in God’s creation, and in one another.

We can attend more seriously to the things in our own hearts and lives that get in the way of experiencing more of God’s mercy and channeling that mercy to the world around us.

We need to lighten up and get serious. We can lighten up because God has already lavished his grace – his mercy and delight – on us. There is nothing we have to prove. We are free. You are free. So, lighten up.

But we also need to get serious. Each of us is a chalice far from being restored. God promises to transform and transfigure us – but, with our cooperation. Let’s get serious about cooperating in God’s work to restore us to beings of mercy and delight. Let’s get serious about cooperating in God’s work to restore God’s creation. That will require some effort on our part.

We cannot be complacent. We cannot be self-indulgent. We need to learn self-control. We need to learn and relearn to pay attention to the state of our hearts. We need to pay attention to how and whether we engage other people with mercy and delight. .And we need to pay less attention to the things that distract us from attending to God’s mercy and delight, the things that distract us from Jesus.

Being people of mercy and delight is not an easy or sentimental thing. It is actually a call to deny ourselves and take up the cross. It is about protracted and difficult, sometimes uncomfortable transformations. The chalice does not necessarily appreciate being bent back into shape, cleaned, and restored. Julian of Norwich heard Jesus say,
“I shall completely break down in you your empty affections and your vicious pride, and then I shall gather you and make you meek and mild and holy through union with me.”

Being people of mercy and delight will mean daring to follow Jesus into the messy
neediness of others. Rowan Williams wrote,
“Christians will be found in the neighbourhood of Jesus – but Jesus is found in the
neighbourhood of human confusion and suffering, defencelessly alongside those in
need. If being baptized is being led to where Jesus is, then being baptized is being led
towards the chaos and the neediness of a humanity that has forgotten its own destiny.”

To be continued . . .

Over the next weeks, I will be posting a brief meditation, poem, or quote on the theme of Delight on Mondays and on Mercy on Fridays. 

Previous: Becoming A People of God's Mercy & Delight, Part 1  Delight

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