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Mercy and Justice NOT Sacrifice
May 19, 2019, 12:00 AM

Grace and peace to you from the Triune God. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God.

In our Gospel text today we hear Jesus saying, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ Mat 9:13. God, incarnate as human, is saying this to the religious authorities of his time and not just any religious authorities but those that were most serious and from the “chosen people.” Later in this same Gospel we hear Jesus saying, “you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” Mat 23:23 My synopsis of this is Jesus saying to the religious authorities of his time, “You follow the law perfectly and miss the point completely.” So, let us not fall into the same trap.

Now contrast this to Paul who writes, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world.” Rom 1:8 Paul is writing to the fairly new Christian community in Rome, in anticipation of getting there and he is lifting them up not because they have followed the law perfectly but because the lived faith filled lives. Not only do they live faith filled lives but they live them so much so that it is obvious to those around them that they live faith filled lives. So presumably they have learned what it means for God to desire justice, mercy and faith.

Since mercy is the part that came in today's gospel lesson let us look at that what mercy is. The online dictionary says that mercy means “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm.” In the case of salvation it means that we are not given the punishment we deserve but that instead we are given eternal life in the presence of God. But in the case we read today I believe that it is also very explicitly about how we live our lives here today. After all Jesus was calling the pharisees out on their immediate behavior not discussing the sweet by and by. So what does it mean for them and thus for us to be people of compassion and forgiveness. What does it mean that we are not to punish people just because they deserve it and it is within our power to administer or have others administer punishment.

Let us look at what some of the synonyms of mercy are: leniency, compassion, grace, charity, and forgiveness. All of these are synonyms for mercy according to the dictionary so they should be able help us flesh out what it means that sometimes justice requires that we do not administer the punishment that is allowed by law but instead... instead what? So leniency involves more tolerance that might be expected. Compassion is defined as sympathetic concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. Charity is the voluntary (not required by law) giving of help to those in need which ties well to grace which I have heard defined as giving that which is not deserved. And finally forgiveness: to cease feeling resentment against, to pardon one's enemies. or to give up resentment of, claim to or to grant relief from payment.

So, going back to mercy and what showing mercy might look like in our lives it would appear that having mercy or to go back to the original text this morning, to show mercy instead of offering sacrifice, means that we should be more tolerant that expected, we should show compassion for the sufferings of other, we should voluntarily offer to help fill the need of others even those who don't deserve it, and we should cease to feel resentment but instead give up our claim to any part of their lives as recompense. I suppose some would say that a large part of offering mercy is being able to recognize that there is a log in your own eye, which you are working on removing even as you ignore the mote in the eye of the person sitting right next to you. To choose a more modern example it might mean that as you leave the gym you go looking for the showers instead of worrying about how the other person smells. Looking for your own example would be any place that we spend working to correct our own actions instead of worrying about the actions of the other. Finally, I think for those of us who bear any amount of privilege it means using our privilege to create space for those who don't have access and biasing the need of those who are oppressed over protecting the privilege of those who already have. In other words if you will offend the privileged, but in so doing help the cause of those who are oppressed then that is the action God is calling you to do.

I think this particular call to action can be challenging because we want to protect what we have. The world around us trains us to protect our wealth, our sources of income, and our valuable possessions. The secular world often says that we deserve to have more than we already, do even if it will mean taking from others. The secular world at moments finds it acceptable to protect wealth instead of living in faith, even when it means not fighting for the causes you know are right. We are given the call if you will to walk away from surety, if it the action which moves us away from surety will help to create space for those that do not have what they need, where not to have what they need involves not just economics but also the psycho social emotional realities. This is why the civil right movement started in the church and why it was important that people who had something to loose got involved in pushing for equality issues.

We are all called by our Savior to a life that involves mercy toward the other. One of the challenges of that call, is that sometimes we are asked to trust in the provision of God instead of the surety of what we have. Sometimes if you will we are called to go after the bird in the bush, because it needs aid instead of making sure we keep the one in our hand.

I think the more we have surety, the harder this becomes and yet at some level increased faith demands ever greater action in the world, which can mean increased trust and decreased assurance that the bird in hand is the one God wants us to have. Interestingly enough, most of the time in my experience, the unseen provision is greater than the one we are clinging to for dear life.

We are offered grace, that which we do not deserve, and in returned called to a life which understands the one offering grace desires from us mercy not sacrifice, love of God, Neighbor and Self if you prefer. We are given the promise of never being alone, we are given the promise of forgiveness for everything that separates us from God and we are given the promise of eternal life in the presence of the divine and all that is asked of us is that we forgive others, and that we show leniency, charity, and compassion. We are given the promises of baptism and the only thing we are asked in return is that we use our lives to help the least of these. We are given all of these gifts and all that is asked, not even demanded, simply asked of us, is that we have faith in God's provision for us. Then God's provision for us will empower us to use our life, our power, our privilege and all that we are to raise up people in need. This is how we go out into the world so evidencing our faith that it becomes know to others. Amen.