Happiness is… Blessed are the Merciful
By: Vannae Savig – October 13, 2019
We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. We’re grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space. As a church we partner with the
liberating presence of God to cultivate joy, hope and belonging as Jesus invites us
into freedom and helps us free others. We pray that whether this is your first time
with us this morning, or you’ve been a part of our community for a while, that you will
feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision. If you are looking for a
church home, we welcome you and hope you can feel at home with us today.
If you’ve been with us these past few weeks, you know that we’ve been working our way through The Beatitudes. But for those of us who are just tuning into the series, let me set the scene for you. The Beatitudes are 8 blessings that Jesus delivers in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus reputation is spreading around. People are calling him a healer, a prophet, a rabbi. Jesus is bringing good news, he’s healing the sick, casting out demons, and crowds of people are coming to see him. Matthew describes the crowds as quite the array of people, from all over Israel and from the nearby Gentile lands. They all are gathered around listening to the teachings of Jesus. And this is what he says to them
I’m reading from Matthew 5 verses 3-12:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil
against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven,
for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
As we are working our way through the beatitudes, we are looking at this text from a different perspective than usual. Hopefully this comes as a relief to you, but this is not a list of how to become the perfect person. Instead, Jesus is painting a picture of what you would see in His Kingdom, like a kingdom culture tour. So if we’re painting a picture not a check-list, then what we are looking at is something beautiful, and not something to stress over
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
This fifth beatitude is a little different from the previous four. This one is something that throughout the gospels Jesus asks of us. I mean we all want to be shown mercy?And God showed us mercy first, the biggest mercy we could ever receive. In Luke chapter 6, Jesus even says, “Be merciful as your father is merciful.” In essence, Jesus is telling us to have the same mercy for others that God has for us.
As I was writing this sermon, I was like, “bam! Super easy! Mercy equals mercy!. Done and done!” But then as I thought about it, this call to being merciful is easier said than done.
I know a man who had no relationship with his father. He hadn’t seen him in over 20 years. Then one day the man’s father turns up at his son’s door step, looking for a relationship, and looking for mercy. Now here is where I want to pause. You know those books where you could choose your own adventure? I’m not even sure they make those anymore, but go with me. Let’s choose the ending where the man sees his father but closes the door in his face. This would be a completely understandable reaction. I mean, to be honest it would probably be my reaction. But what would the ripple effects be to not showing mercy to his dad? What if the man had a “closed door” response to mercy? Well for one, he would never get to know his father. If the man closed the door perhaps his children would never get to know their grandfather. If the man closed door, he’d miss out on this beatitude, he’d miss out on the blessings and the mercy that comes with being merciful. Now let’s choose the open door ending. Well obviously he’d get to have a chance to know his father, and perhaps get some clarity on a few things. But also, he’d get to take part in this kingdom culture that Jesus is referring to here in Matthew. He would get a chance to show mercy.
Mercy is when the empathy and compassion in our hearts for our neighbor’s troubles, pushes us to take action to help them.
I like this understanding because its describing mercy as more than just feeling pity and compassion for someone in need. Mercy only exists when we do something to help our neighbor. Sometimes this help comes in the form of forgiveness like the man and his father that I mentioned earlier, and sometimes its about getting proximate with our neighbors, getting in the mud with them and helping however we can.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus is addressing the question, who is our neighbor, and how do we show mercy to them?
Luke 10: 25-37 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expenses you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
For many of us this is a familiar story, which may prevent us from seeing, hearing, or understanding its significance. The Jews and the Samaritans conflict was fierce and long standing. So to have the hero of the story be the Samaritan, was kind of a plot twist. We do not know if the injured man was a Jew or Gentile, but it made no difference to the Samaritan; he did not consider the man’s ethnicity or religion. The “Good Samaritan” saw only a person in dire need of assistance, and went above and beyond the minimum required. The Samaritan got proximate, he got in the mud with this man. He used his money, his time, his donkey, and risked his safety to help this man. He showed that compassion and mercy have no bounds. The Samaritan saw his neighbor as anyone who was in need. Jesus is telling us to do likewise.
Something you will get to know about me is that I love musicals. I secretly am always hoping that people around me will just bust out into dance and song and we all know the moves and words together. This has not happened yet, but I know it will. One of my favorite musicals is Les Miserables. Yes, it’s a little depressing, but there are some beautiful human interactions and vulnerability in this musical. It takes place at the birth of the French Revolution. There’s a particular part in this musical that always makes me cry. It’s in the very beginning. The main character, Jean Valjean has just been released from prison, and he gets caught stealing from a church. The police bring him back to the church and tells the Bishop that they caught the thief, but the thief says that the Bishop gave him all this silver. Clearly he’s lying, but the Bishop feels empathy for Jean, and surprises everyone by confirming his story. The Bishop tells the police that he did give Jean Valjean the silver and in fact, here’s some more for him to have. And starts taking candle holders and silverware from the table and shoving it into a bag for him, saying, “my friend you forgot these other things!” And all the bishop asks of Jean Valjean is to use this opportunity to become and honest person. Shocked the police leave and so does Jean Valjean, and he sings a soliloquy. He’s so confused why the Bishop would have mercy for him.
He even says, Yet why did I allow this man
To touch my soul and teach me love?
He treated me like any other
He gave me his trust
He called me brother
My life he claims for God above
Can such things be?
For I had come to hate the world
This world that always hated me“
Uhh! This is my favorite part! Someone finally gave him a chance, someone finally helped him, someone finally saw him as a person not as criminal. Someone told him that God loved him! And this moment changes his life forever! The Bishop gets proximate and digs in and shows mercy to his neighbor. The bishop shows mercy to Jean Valjean by helping him attain the money he needs to change his life, but also by showing forgiveness for stealing from the church.
There’s a vulnerability and intimacy when you get proximate and open the door to mercy. Jesus could have kept the door closed, like in the story about the man and his father. Jesus could have called to us from his window, “hey guys, you need to pull it together.” But Jesus’ kingdom culture is about open door mercy. Jesus got proximate. He came down to Earth, got in the mud with us, and showed us the ultimate mercy. In some of his last moments, Jesus says, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” He died forgiving us.
But what about those of us who keep the door closed. What are our barriers? I’m gonna be honest, I am not the example of mercy. I tend to hold grudges and as my husband has pointed out, I repeat verbatim what you said and bring that up…a lot. There is a vulnerability to being merciful that I find challenging. If the man chose to close his door to his father, then he couldn’t risk getting hurt. Right? Or for the Levite and priest in the good Samaritan story, they didn’t have to risk their safety, their money, or their time. Or if the Bishop in Les Mis had let the police take Jean Valjean away, then he wouldn’t have gotten all his silver back and wouldn’t have to risk anything. Mercy can make us uncomfortable.
So, what are you afraid of risking? What do you think is keeping you from taking action and showing the mercy that Jesus talks about. Who is your neighbor that you could get more proximate to?
Not all merciful acts have to be grand gestures. Most of the time mercy reveals itself in smaller fleeting moments. Sometimes it’s in the everyday life things that God gives us an opportunity to display mercy. Mercy gives you their seat on the bus when they see your hands are full, in a way that keeps you from feeling like mercy is doing you a favor or that you owe them. Mercy doesn’t make you feel worse when you’ve broken your husband’s favorite mug. Mercy does not let out that sigh, you know the one, the wordless disapproval toward a person in the check-out line ahead of you whose card got declined or who can’t find their coupon, or whose toddler is having a meltdown, mercy offers to help. Mercy isn’t judgmental, mercy shows patience, mercy is forgiving, and mercy shows understanding.
So a few years ago, I had just had my second child and he and I were out with a friend and her son at Target. My son is sleeping in his carseat and I offered to take my friend’s son down by cafe area while my friend finished checking out. Well as soon as we get near the slurpees my baby wakes up hungry and angry. He’s screaming so loud I can’t even hear myself think. People are looking and I’ve started sweating. I’m trying to make him a bottle, and friend’s kid is wandering away from me. To be honest, this was my first time out with two kids. I also embarrass easily. For some reason, the bottle won’t open. I’m looking for my friend, she’s still in line and can’t even see the chaos beginning. Her son can’t sit still. A woman comes up to me and just smiles, “can I help?” Now normally, Im all about stranger danger, (don’t give your kids to strangers) but that day I was desperate. So I say yes, and she holds my screaming newborn while I struggle with the bottle, and keeping my friend’s son in check. She’s just rocking my baby and telling me how I’m such a great mom, and giving me a pep talk, and talking me off my ledge. At any rate, this lady made my stress levels go way down by just offering to help me out for a min. It was WONDERFUL. I was so thankful for her mercy. She saw a neighbor in need, and helped me out in such a simple yet valuable way.
So I’m sure some of you are wondering what actually happened with the man and his father? Well, he chose to open the door. And when his dad came in he tried to explain himself. He apologized for that past, but the man stopped him. And he just hugs his dad. They ended up mending their relationship and ended up getting to spend years together getting to know each other before the man’s father passes away. And I’m so glad they did, because this is the story of my dad and my grandfather.
How did they do this? How did the man work through his hurt and anger towards his dad enough to forgive him? I don’t have a simple answer for you. I think forgiveness is complicated, I think our lives are complicated. So please don’t think I think all of what I said is easy. What I do know is, praying and asking for God’s help is a great place to start. Taking this mercy thing a day at a time. Start small with the everyday mercies that I talked about before. Helping the overwhelmed mom in the grocery store. Having more patience for your kids. Forgiving what you can, not holding grudges. And watch how God changes things in you.
In March of 2013, Pope Francis spoke about mercy this way during an Easter service,
“God’s mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones ….Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.
If something that was said today, resonates with you there is a prayer team on my left here, that would love to pray with you. Also,