Summary: The Rev. Rian Adams. This sermon informs people to rest in the mercy of God.
Sermon: “God Is Mercy”
Epiphany 7, Year C
The Rev. Rian Adams
Introduction: Mercy as Listening
Jesus says, “Be merciful as your Father is merciful." In Matthew's version, Jesus goes a bit farther, "Go and learn what this means; I want mercy and not sacrifice."
Some of you might know that I'm in the middle of writing a doctoral dissertation on mercy. I can’t pass up this opportunity to preach about it. So the sermon this morning is titled: God is Mercy.
Before we dive too deep, I'd like to give you my definition of mercy. I think it's a compassionate action of leniency when justice is in order.
Sometimes mercy comes in the form of listening.
I served as a military chaplain for nearly a decade. It was a ministry that involved listening to the hurting. I recall a time where a woman walked into my office with tears in her eyes.
She came from the chapel. She went inside to pray and ran out of the building when she saw the altar prepared for Holy Eucharist. Guilt overcame her, and she felt unwelcome in the presence of God. Her husband recently divorced her, embarrassed her, and left her alone to care for their 5-year-old son.
She sat in my office and said, “Father… so many bad things have happened to me, I must not be worthy to stand before God’s altar.” I just listened.
Her parents were staunch Roman Catholics, and she grew up hearing the phrase, "shame on you." I listened to that too.
Then I shared familiar words we often hear…
This is the table, not of the righteous,
but of the poor in spirit.
It is made ready for those who love God
and who want to love God more.
The next Sunday she came to Eucharist, held out her hands, and received, "The body of Christ, the bread of heaven.” That’s when she listened to the words of mercy.
I resonate with her story; most of us probably can too. We have all experienced shame at some point in our lives. Sometimes it comes from our families, our parents, the church, or sometimes it’s from the public.
We can overcome that pain by holding space for people’s stories. Mercy listens to shame; it doesn't perpetuate it.
If you go to church (well, most churches…), you will hear the word mercy. We say it, and we hear it every single Sunday. I counted… apart from the sermon and the prayers, we use the word mercy seven times in today’s service. We use justice… zero.
We hear mercy… but can we listen to it? Can we listen as mercy whispers, "Tell your story with grace instead of shame"
God's mercy always bends an ear toward our circumstances. You’ll never hear God interrupt and say, “I hear you, but…” The answer is always “yes, I hear you.”
Mercy as Action
We know that God hears us, but we shouldn’t stop there. I'm going to be bold and say that mercy is a call to action.
A certain group of people pulled back the curtain of God’s love to revealed God’s mercy to me. I learned more about mercy from these people than I did from seminary, liturgy, theologians, and ethicists combined.
This is an accurate account of a primitive tribe of indigenous peoples in South Africa called the Ubunto. Their culture humbles me because they do not have tools of punishment, no whips, no prisons, they do not even have police.
Yet they do not descend into anarchy and chaos. Here’s how they do it… they show mercy in their actions.
When a person commits a wrong, they take them to the center of the village. For two days they gather around them and speak of the good they have done.
The villagers continually tell the person what is right with them, not what is wrong with them. That is mercy in action.
They believe that deep down, at the core of being, all people are created good.
They even believe that wrongdoing is a cry for help and a call to remembrance.
Hear today’s Gospel reading through their ritual. It fits perfectly with the message of Jesus; each person deserves a chance to reconnect with the soul of who they are. We can help them!
I look back on a few instances in my life, and I wonder how it would have healed my soul if people would have gathered around me and told me what was right with me.
I wonder how different our children and grandchildren can grow in love if we tell them what’s right with them.
The Ubunto know that behavior is not a problem when the community offers compassion and lives mercy.
The mercy of Jesus is found in action.
Mercy As a Position of the Heart