STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH MAY 30, 2020
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
WORSHIPPING AT HOME TOGETHER
Call to Worship: Psalm 103: 1- 5 & 8
|O my soul, bless God.
From head to toe, I’ll bless his holy name!
O my soul, bless God, don’t forget a single blessing!
He forgives your sins—every one.
He heals your diseases—every one.
He redeems you from hell—saves your life!
He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown.
He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal.
He renews your youth
God is sheer mercy and grace;
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
Merciful God, when we were far away from you, lost in sin, violating the boundaries of you and of others, and withholding our help in time of need, you saw our plight, took pity on us and came to save us. You love us and forgive us. You heal us and restore us. You relieve our pain and rescue us from torment. You are merciful. This is so much more than we deserve and so we praise you.
We confess that we are not inclined to mercy.
We are hard hearted in the face of suffering.
We often want retribution.
We are quick to judge.
Forgive us. Show your mercy to us, now and always. Help us to be merciful to others as you are merciful to us, in Jesus Christ our Lord, whom we worship with you and with the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon: 1 Timothy 1: 12 – 14
I’m so grateful to Christ Jesus because I was treated mercifully. I didn’t know what I was doing—didn’t know Who I was doing it against! Grace mixed with faith and love poured over me and into me. And all because of Jesus.
Prayer for Illumination
Holy God, open our minds to see your mercy and open our hearts to receive your mercy, so we will be merciful to others. Amen.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” Matthew 5: 7 (NRSV)
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full’, you find yourselves cared for.” The Message
Micah 6: 6 – 8
Titus 3: 3 – 8 or Colossians 3: 9 – 17
Luke 10: 25 – 37
A priest was pulled over while driving for speeding. The officer said, “Father you were going 30 kms over the limit and I’ll have to give you a ticket. The priest replied: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” The officer nodded, “Yes, Father, that’s true”. Then tore the ticket off his pad , handed it to the surprised priest and said, “Go your way, and sin no more.”
Our beatitude today centers around “mercy”. Do you remember the line from the song “Pretty Woman” in which Roy Orbison is so smitten by a woman walking down the street that he calls out for “mercy”? What about the end of the movie “Braveheart” where William Wallace is being drawn and quartered by the executioner? The crowd, who were eager to watch the spectacle, become so revolted by the sight of a living man having his bowels pulled out like a string of sausages, they begin to cry for “mercy”. I remember some rough play as children in which an arm behind the back would only be released if one begged for mercy. “Mercy” is the alleviation of suffering.
Mercy is born of empathy. Mercy is not simply a transient, emotional wave of weakness or pity for the plight of another. It is the ability to get into another person’s skin until we can see things through their eyes, understand their thoughts, relate to their emotions, know their motivations and feel their passions. It is only as we bear the pain and burden of others that we show mercy. After her husband, Prince Albert died, Queen Victoria paid a surprise visit to a friend who also had been recently widowed. When the Queen was announced the woman, who had been lying on the couch, struggled to get up to courtesy. The Queen stopped her saying, “Don’t rise, I am not coming today as a queen to her subject, but as one woman who has lost her husband to another.” That is empathy. Empathy says, “I know your pain, your sorrows, your struggles and your suffering”, mercy says, “I have come to ease your pain, sorrows, struggles and suffering”. In the coming of Christ, God showed his mercy. In the most literal sense, God got inside the skin of human beings. He united himself with our human experience and rather than condemning us, he was merciful towards us.
Often, we think the opposite of mercy is justice, but the opposite of mercy is callousness. In the parable of the Good Samaritan the priest and Levite walk by on the other side of the road. They may have been thinking of their own safety, their own schedule, their own piety (to touch a bleeding man would make them ritually unclean). To leave a man dying in the gutter, one needs to turn off compassion and empathy. Only a hardened heart can see someone so abused and wounded and pretend they haven’t seen it. Or perhaps, they were so caught up in their own world, they really didn’t see the wounded man, which would be an insensitivity born of narcissism. Either way, theirs was not the response of someone with a tender heart. Within a split second they made the decision not to identify with the man’s suffering or act to alleviate it. The Samaritan, on the other hand, had been on the receiving end of Jewish scorn. If anyone could have rationalized a hard heart, it was him. Often, we think the Samaritan helped the man because “it’s the right thing to do”. However, the Samaritan’s reaction grew, not because he was rule bound, but because he wasn’t. He set aside the rules, which said Samaritans and Jews don’t mix, and put himself in the man’s position. He saw the man’s suffering. He imagined his pain. He recognized that if he were the man, he’d be grateful if someone helped him. He showed mercy.
Mercy and justice are related in that mercy leads to justice. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, someone had abused the man and robbed him, the Samaritan did the opposite; he tended to the man and paid for his care. He restored the man in the ways he could. Mercy has the potential to bring balance to another’s circumstances or experiences. This week in Minneapolis we saw the brutal murder of a man by a police officer. The man was black and his community is justifiably angry. This has resulted in protests and rioting including the torching of property. We’ve been told by someone who served in Iraq and who lives in Minneapolis “It’s like a war zone”. I’m in no position to judge the actions of this community. The question is: will these actions be affective in bringing an end to the abuse and oppression of the black community in the USA? Will they foster equality and compassion. The blacks didn’t create the problem and it won’t go away until those who did create it seek to put an end to the suffering they continue to impose. Violence begets violence. What is needed is mercy. For that to happen, white people need to grow in empathy for their neighbour who is black. We can’t right a wrong; the Samaritan couldn’t undo the man’s brutal attack; no one can bring George Floyd or many other unjustly murdered black men back to life. But as the Samaritan balanced the actions of the bandits with his kindness, mercy will lead to better ways of relating which will bring healing and new life out of the ashes of oppression. Kingdom justice – God’s world, God’s way – grows out of mercy.
The callousness of the priest and Levite are even more reprehensible because they turned their back on a fellow Jew with whom they shared not only a civil but a spiritual bond. God’s mercy exists within a covenant and is often translated as “loving kindness” or “steadfast love”. “God’s love, though, is ever and always, eternally present to all who fear him, making everything right for them and their children as they follow his Covenant ways and remember to do whatever he said.” (Psalm 103:17). In the same way, we have a heightened responsibility to show mercy to our Christian brothers and sisters and to those with whom we enter into a covenant relationship. In a congregation I served in, there was a husband and wife who had been together for 10 years and had 2 children when the wife was diagnosed with MS. It was severe and soon she was limited to a wheelchair and needed constant care. Her husband not only stayed with her, he was merciful to her. He tended to her with patient loving affection doing all he could to make her life easier. When her mother grew older and needed help, he was there for her as well. He, of course, had his struggles but his love and faithfulness prevailed. Perhaps, what was most remarkable about this couple is that she was always light-hearted and cheerful and in spite of their challenges, they were faithful not only to each other but also to Christ, living their faith and rarely missing Sunday worship.
Mercy isn’t always easy. In Braveheart when the crowd called out for mercy, they were asking for the alleviation of Wallace’s suffering by a quick death. They wanted the torture to stop. A woman I was speaking to recently described the burden of guilt she feels over the death of her mother. Her mother was in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s and when she got a virus, the woman made the decision not to treat her. It was a painful call and it was the merciful thing to do. Being merciful comes with a burden of responsibility, especially when it comes to life and death situations or risking our own security. The Samaritan risked his own safety and his reputation among his people to save the wounded man, unlike the officers in Minneapolis, who lacked the courage to intervene while a fellow officer inflicted suffering and death on a man.
Mercy isn’t limited to those with whom we’re bonded. The merciful seek to bring wholeness to all who are vulnerable and abused. We are told that God “doesn’t play favorites, takes no bribes, makes sure orphans and widows are treated fairly, takes loving care of foreigners by seeing that they get food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:18). A woman tells this story, “After hiking to an obscure waterfall while on vacation, we returned to find our car had been broken into, belongings gone. We had our plane tickets, ID, and the keys to the car. No cash, no clothes, no wallets. We drove to the nearest town and asked if there was a police station where we could report the theft. The officer on duty w was very sympathetic, took our information and then invited us to have dinner with her. We were welcomed as precious guests by her large family. They insisted we stay the night with them. The next morning, the officer took us to a local lawyer who managed an emergency fund for locals fallen on hard times. He lent us money to get home and then invited us to lunch. This experience, which could have been a disaster for us, ended up being the highlight of the trip. I’ll never forget the kindness and generosity of this small community”.
Shalom is used to describe the mercy that permeates the Kingdom of God. A world as God intended it to be. Shalom occurs when “the wolf will romp with the lamb, the leopard sleep with the kid; Calf and lion will eat from the same trough…” (Isaiah 11: 1 – 9). “God’s world, God’s way” exists when mercy and love prevail in all relationships. Shalom is exercised when people care for one another, whether that’s a family member, a neighbour or a wider group of people. This time of pandemic has made me more aware of the imbalances between the rich and the poor. While we stay sheltered in our homes, others have no homes within which to self-isolate. While we wash our hands 20 times a day, there are those who don’t have access to clean water. Although the restrictions have caused a financial burden for many and placed people in debt, there’s still a gap between most of us and the woman in Africa who, when told to self-isolate, immediately said, “If I don’t work, my children will starve to death. That’s more of a threat than a virus we may not catch.” The suffering of those who live in refugee camps, crowded conditions or war zones is that much worse during a pandemic. Mercy, the alleviation of their suffering is needed in the short run. And mercy, that leads to a more just society needs to be a long-term goal. In Micah 6: 8 we read, “what does the Lord require of you but to act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (NIV) or as The Message puts it, “Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously”.
As we read this beatitude, it’s tempting to look at it as an insurance policy – if I’m merciful to someone else, God will be merciful to me. A callous attitude if ever there was one. God showed his mercy to us not only by sharing our humanity but by dying for us. Christ suffered to alleviate our suffering. We are merciful not to serve ourselves but because God has already served us by being merciful to us. We are blessed and happy when we’re merciful because, united with Christ in love, we are able to bring blessings and joy to others.
Questions for Reflection:
When was someone merciful to you?
When have you shown mercy to another?
When did you have the opportunity to show mercy but did otherwise?
Is there a situation in your life now in which God is calling you to be merciful?
Offering: God of mercy, our offering to you is rather sad because we have so little to give you. We are in your debt. Help us to repay you by extending mercy to others and being compassionate to those who are hurting and in need. Amen.
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession:
Holy God, we are thankful that you are loving and compassionate. You see us in our need and reach out to help us. Your kindness overflows washing away our pain.
We are thankful for your mercy and grace through our Lord, Jesus Christ.
We are thankful to the community of St. Stephen’s and for brothers and sisters who have cared for us, supporting us in our struggles, forgiving our hurtful and self-absorbed actions, lifting us up to your light so that we might be healed and find new life.
We are thankful for family who care for us in times of need. We pray for your blessings on all those we love. In this moment we bring them to mind and visualize your light surrounding and filling them.
We pray for all places, including Ontario, where restrictions due to Covid 19 are being lifted. Help people to be wise and thoughtful. We know our lives are in your hands and pray for courage. Comfort those who mourn.
We pray for places in which self-isolation is challenging due to limited resources of food, shelter, water and to overcrowding. Be with those who are vulnerable and show us how you’d have us show mercy.
We pray for the people of Minneapolis. For those who are angry and hurting. For those who have wronged another. For the decent police who are trying now to keep order. We pray for justice, for changed hearts, and for an end to prejudice and violence. Teach us to be merciful to one another and to lift up those who are down-trodden.
We pray for those we love who are ill or in need of mercy and name them before you…
Thank you for hearing our prayers and showing us your mercy, through Jesus Christ who taught us to pray saying….
Invitation to Mission:
We go from here to show mercy, as God in Christ has been merciful to us.
May the Triune God bless you and keep you. Amen.