HOUDINI LIVES ~
OR MERCY TRIUMPHS OVER JUDGEMENT!
LUKE 7: 36~ 47
It seems God just loves to show mercy whereas all too often our natural inclination is to show judgement. I guess my biggest act of mercy was rescuing a mouse that the cat brought in through the cat flap. I managed to get the mouse out of his mouth and carried the cat kicking me as I was holding him tightly down the stairs, throwing him out of the front door at 3.30 am in the morning. I then had a problem. I soon realised that the only person who could catch the mouse was the cat who was now outside the house and had gone into a right sulk. Every time I tried to catch that poor little mouse he proved too fast for me, the last I saw of him was his long tail climbing up the inside of my chair. Houdini as I called him, lived very contentedly in my sofa for two and half weeks before I eventually caught him in a humane mousetrap, happily letting him go in the big wide world again.
Houdini had chewed the material on the sofa, ate my cat’s food and very wisely escaped death in a nasty trap called the “Little Nipper” that I had originally planned to catch him in. I think after all he had been through he deserved to live, but I have to say that my cat Gizmo was not so keen to show mercy especially as they had a stand off for a whole morning eyeballing each other and lets face it that mouse was proving to be a lot more cleverer than my cat!
Let’s look at how Jesus enacted mercy wherever possible and often reserved judgement for those who stood in judgement over others. He actually stated His mission was not to condemn the world but to save it: John 3:17 “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world though Him”.
2. If you really knew me would you want to?
I think our sinful woman came to the right person don’t you? After all the Pharisees didn’t want her near them, and thought if Jesus knew who she was (which He did!) that He wouldn’t either. Yet Jesus came to find and save the lost. His heart is not to keep people away but to bring them in that His house may be full. Jesus loved the unlovable. He touched the untouchable.
Religion has little if any grace or love, it alienates and rejects rather than accepting and bringing the lost to a God who loves them dearly. In her brilliant testimony books “Freed for Life” and “Freed for Ever”, Rita Nightingale tells her story of how she came to know Jesus whilst serving a long prison sentence in a Thai jail on drug charges. Eventually released by Royal Pardon she often shared her testimony in various churches. Sadly on one occasion someone actually approached her and pointedly told her how when she found the Lord she had put her make up down the drain. Even after just hearing this wonderful story of God’s amazing love and grace, because Rita happened to be wearing make up they felt it necessary to go and criticise her for not meeting their particular standards of holiness. Helpful it isn’t is it? In fact it must have been humiliating.
I think the story of Esther alone with her yearlong beauty treatments using oils and perfumes would have said that view was religion and not grace. After all in the providence of God Esther was used to save her nation. The trouble is so often these opinions are entrenched in our traditions and man made rules; it leads to those outside feeling unwanted. We have to really think through these attitudes to see if they are of man or of God. Especially if they alienate people whom God so wants us to love and accept in our church communities.
Unfortunately religion so binds and enslaves, there is no freedom or love. It certainly does not help to reach the lost on the contrary it puts them off. Unsurprisingly people find religious rules with its incomprehensible dos and don’t off-putting to say the least. Let mercy triumph over judgement!
3. The Untouchables.
Jesus was often approached by the social out casts of His society. Strange when you think about it. Why did they feel so at ease with Him? He was certainly more approachable than the religious leaders of His day that’s for sure. They didn’t want these people near them, let alone eat and drink with them. But Jesus went to them, ate with them in their own homes and received them with such compassion whenever they came to Him.
We read in Matthew Chapter 9: 10 ~13 that the Pharisees could not believe Jesus was willing to associate with tax collectors and sinners. But Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
You can sometimes hear derogatory comments about different categories of people. Gypsies, the younger generation, prisoners, single parents to mention a few. Writing them off. But God doesn’t. He has a plan for their lives. By talking to them we maybe surprised how frightened, lonely and anxious they actually are. This kind of self-righteousness is often based on tradition not God’s love. Hanging on to such ingrained attitudes we become “them and us” with of course us being rather superior to them. But who else has God commissioned to go to them with the Gospel but us? Jesus loves them ~ will we? No one is exempt!
4. I’m overburdened ~ don’t you care?
The Pharisees had made a religion out of God’s laws so much so that even Jesus did not live up to their expectations of how their laws should operate. They had put an awful burden on people’s backs. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. With absolutely no assistance given to those so overwhelmed by these add on laws.
In Matthew Chapter 12: 1~7 we read they condemned the hungry disciples for daring to eat the ears of the corn on the Sabbath. I would love to ask why they didn’t offer to feed them if it was so important to them not to have their rules broken? But oh no! Rules were rules and they were not going to help you in any way whatsoever.
These Pharisees had made a religion out of God’s law often getting uptight over any slight infringement of their interpretation of the law being broken. Jesus told them if they had known what mercy meant they would not have condemned the innocent; but they obviously didn’t get it! How come the keepers of God’s law were so hard hearted? Mercy should have triumphed over judgement.
Jesus reminded them of the occasion David ate the consecrated bread. Just thinking about David’s lifestyle and attitude especially to his enemies will reveal a man who could show mercy. But then unlike them David was a man after God’s own heart.
5. I’m clean on the outside but don’t look too closely!
These poor Pharisees seem to have been bound by religiosity but what makes it really sad is that they oppressed God’s people with their laws. In Matthew 15:2 we see they came to Jesus only to ask, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” Sad when you think of all the important things they could have asked Him!
Cleanliness may be next to Godliness but it isn’t Godliness! Oh they were so clean on the outside but their hearts were very sick as we listen to Jesus diagnosing their true spiritual condition. On the outside they passed their own strict religious tests ~ but on the inside ~ they didn’t fool Jesus!
The whole of Matthew Chapter 23 ominously subtitled “Seven Woes” is dedicated just to them! Jesus called them hypocrites because they so loved attention and praise with their long wordy prayers all to impress the crowd. He even said that on the outside they appeared to people as righteous but on the inside they were full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Jesus warned the crowd “But do not do what they do, for they do not practise what they preach”. “Everything they do is done for men to see”.
In any case God says His laws are not burdensome. Can you imagine what a burden it must have been to use litres and litres of water in a dry land not to drink but to be ceremoniously clean according to the exacting standards of the elder’s traditions. My understanding was priests had to wash before going to the temple but a new religion had been made out of washing your hands! Oh what joy it must have brought to see the water in those pots used for ceremonial washing being turned into the best wine you could ever have tasted on that memorable Wedding feast.
6. Who are we most like?
“Be merciful as your Father in Heaven is merciful” Jesus told his disciples. Billy Graham was once asked what would he do if he found out his son was gay. “I would love that one more”. Oh how I just love that answer. No we are not excusing sin, but love is our answer.
A dear friend of mine asked me puzzled where in the Bible it said that homosexuals would not inherit the kingdom of God. I looked through my concordance later to find a few scriptures that had come to mind. Well would you believe it the verse in 1 Cor 6: 9 ~ 10 did say that homosexual offenders will not inherit the kingdom of God, but obviously someone had omitted to say that nine other categories of sinners clearly listed would not either. It also includes the greedy but I guess that less offensive sounding sin didn’t get a mention. You would be forgiven for thinking that homosexuality is the only sin mentioned in the Bible. Can I say people are not an abomination? What they are involved in maybe but what about our sins? Lets get busy with sorting ourselves out first. I don’t believe God has pet sins that He hates more than others. Sin is sin. And my sin cost Jesus dearly.
We are all sinners albeit saved by the grace of God. If the Church focused more on eradicating the sins that are so often it’s downfall; a lack of love, gossip, slander and criticism to mention a few, we would be so busy taking the plank out of our own eyes and only then might we have time to take the speck out of our brother’s eye.
In the end my friend and I discussed how important it was to show love and mercy to whomever God puts across our paths and not alienate them in judgement. We may be the only contact someone has with Jesus, to condemn them whatever their lifestyle is to alienate them. We should always reach out to them as they are showing God’s love. It’s that attitude that will draw them to the Lord, not judgement.
7. Someone show me mercy ~ please!
Before we speak, criticise or judge someone lets take a pause and think. Even if we are in a position of authority and are that person’s parent, manager or elder can we show mercy? Lets prayerfully before God ask His wisdom in dealing with difficult situations that require help to see if we can bring mercy to that person.
Most of us are familiar with the play “Les Miserables” based on Victor Hugo’s book. Here is such an overwhelming example of how showing mercy got the right results, applying the law no matter what brought misery. Jean Valjean who out of extreme poverty spends years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread is eventually shown a perfect example of mercy. Upon being arrested for stealing the Bishop’s silver he is given his freedom and made an additional gift of candlesticks that he had forgot to steal! A changed man he eventually rises socially becoming a respectable member of society. But the sadistic policeman Javert with a rigid conscience, whose judgements are absolute with no exceptions, is determined to expose Jean Valjean. Eventually Javert upon being saved by Valjean is forced to admit that “there may be error in his dogma, that judges are men and even the law may do wrong”. Unable to cope with this awesome truth he sadly commits suicide.
Julie’s Mum once decided to show mercy, when her Mum caught Julie stealing some makeup from a local chemist, Mum decided to increase Julie’s weekly pocket money, with of course a strict telling off. This act of mercy had the desired effect, extra money to buy the things so obviously wanted, but with a sense of responsibility of not letting her Mum down by doing something so wrong again. It worked. Mercy triumphed over judgement!
8. The Gospel
Perhaps sadly you have been made to feel you have broken religious laws and so did not fit in to what was expected of you. Don’t let your experiences keep you from the love and grace of God. You are well equipped to show mercy and not judgement to those who so need God’s love today in this broken world.
The best news for someone here today is that I can assure you of God’s mercy and willingness to forgive all your sins in Jesus Name. He invites you to come to Him and promises He will never, ever turn away anyone, no matter what you have done. “Whoever comes to Me I will never drive away.” John 6:37
Can I say it was for freedom that Christ has set us free? The more we realise that God has shown us such mercy in spite of all our sins and shortcomings the more we will be merciful to others. As Jesus told Simon the Pharisee in our scripture reading “I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven ~ for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Lets have a heart for the outcasts and fish them in for Jesus’ sake!
Can we finish with the song “Soften my heart Lord”.