Love Mercy - Sermon 01.21.18
There is this schoolyard game that we used to play when I was in elementary school. You and your opponent would interlock your fingers and proceed to try to bend those fingers back or contort them any way possible. The game would only end when someone shouted, “Mercy!” Quite the game, right?
Shouting “Mercy!” in the context of this game would be a signaling of defeat. The contorting would cease. Fingers would be released and there would be an alleviation of pain.
So that is one way to look at mercy, as the alleviating of another’s pain.
In fact throughout Scripture we see Jesus being stirred to compassion, and moved to mercy for those who are in need. The hungry crowd on the shore. Healing the sick among the multitude. The two blind men sitting on the roadside. A leper in Galilee.
The ancient Greek word for this stirring of compassion, this inward movement of mercy is Splachna. Splachna literally connects to a moving or stirring of the guts. Jesus’ love, mercy, and compassion for others spilled from his innermost being. To love mercy is to live from a posture of love that is intrinsic to who we have become in Christ. To love mercy is to feel compassion not only in our spirit, but to be so physically moved we cannot help but act.
To give a great example of what it looks like to love mercy, perhaps it will be helpful to see what it looks like to despise mercy. Particularly God’s mercy. Calling our attention to the OT text for today, Jonah is a classic example. God sends him on a mission. After all he is a prophet of God. And he high tails it in the opposite direction.
How many of us can identify with that?
Anyway, in the process of God sending a storm. Jonah volunteering to being thrown off of a boat and being swallowed up by a large fish we witness the prayer of Jonah from the belly of the whale. Appealing to God’s steadfast love. The word used is the Hebrew hesed which refers to God’s faithful, covenantal love. He does not forget his people.
So Jonah is vomited up on a beach. He is spared. God has mercy on him. God loves having mercy on his people. He prefers mercy over sacrifice after all. Because loving mercy says something about who you are. It reveals transformation. That is why Micah writes, live justly& love mercy, because living justly connects us with the righteousness of God, loving mercy connects us with the heart and the guts of God. And if God lives within us through the indwelling of His spirit, we are indeed connected with his heart and guts. He wants us to be excited about the extension of his mercy to people, rather than being reluctant or apathetic.
Jonah was certainly the reluctant type. But after his belly of the whale experience he was ready to announce the wrath of the Lord on the Ninevites unless they humbled themselves and turned from their wicked ways. God never withholds mercy from the humble. Never. It just straight up never happens in all of Scripture. God cannot resist extending his mercy to the humble. There are plenty of times he extends mercy to those that are not humble. But the humble, they get God’s mercy every time.
And Jonah knew this. Nineveh had been an enemy to Israel. They had the reputation of being bloodthirsty and ruthless. Nineveh even means “city of blood.” And Jonah had no interest in God showing mercy to them. But once they humbled themselves, God could not resist. He spared them. And Jonah despised God’s mercy for them. Not for himself, of course. But for them. Those people.
What Jonah’s story teaches us is that we have a God who loves mercy. Yet we are a people who sometimes don’t. We sometimes don’t want mercy for our enemies. We are sometimes even indifferent to God’s mercy for others. And I think it’s because we struggle with the concept of mercy. We tend to carry the remnants of sins long gone like toting backpacks of shame through our lives. And a lot of it has to do with never really coming into agreement with the radical nature of God’s mercy and love. That in Jesus, God took all of the sin and shame of our past and has given a future immersed within his righteousness and grace. It is truly a death and resurrection. A dying to ourselves and being raised anew as God’s precious, forgiven, children.
And when we fail at the fundamental level of having mercy for ourselves, how can we possibly live life from a posture of loving mercy. In fact, it can even make us despise mercy because deep down, we have lost sight of the grandiosity of God’s mercy extended in our direction.
When we are out of touch with the importance of our mission to love mercy, it is time to recalibrate that mission. To refocus in the direction of the cross as mercy personified hangs limp ,testifying to the extremity God’s mercy.
For Zion the 70’s was this time period. A new pastor had come to Zion and as the city grew up around Zion, the church found itself in the midst of a city with glaring needs. The 70’s saw Zion getting involved in all kinds of new outreach and service ministries that stemmed from a revival of the love of mercy that has been at the heart of Zion since it’s inception. In the 70’s many members participated in the formation or administration of several community service agencies such as Friendly House, Northwest Pilot Project, Project ABEL, the City-County Commission on Aging, the Burnside Consortium, and Meals on wheels.
One of the most gut stirring stories that came out of 1975 when large numbers of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees entered the US following the war in Vietnam. In response to the needs of these families, Zion welcomed a refugee family into their midst. A husband and wife from Vietnam with four teenage children. The members of Zion rented a home and provided food, household supplies, furniture, and appliances. Some folks helped register their kids for school. Others helped them with job placement. And still yet others reached out to form relationships and offer hospitality.
That, my friends, is mercy. The love for mercy is ingrained in the culture of this church. And yes, just like all human beings, church’s capacity for mercy waxes and wanes. There are times where it is lived out radically and beautifully and other times where it is forgotten or ignored. And still yet, times where we are tempted to run away. But we can remember those instances in Zion’s history where the mercy that God so loves is lived out in our lives.
And it all starts with UP. We draw our love for mercy from God’s mercy.
It’s practiced with IN. As we show mercy to one another. By overlooking each others short comings. By helping brothers and sisters in need.
And it continues with OUT. As we seek God’s mission for Zion to our city. To the people with urgent need all around us.
We’re all tempted to run away. We all struggle with having a stirring in our gut for others. But there
is nothing but mercy when we meet beneath the cross. And it is only from there that we can hear The voice of the Lord calling to the city! Calling us to the city. Our city. To live justly and to love mercy. To long and desire for such an outpouring of God’s mercy and passion in our city that we are nearly offended by it.
Lord, have mercy. Hear our prayer. Amen.