April 24, 2017
“Learn from the Earth” April 23 sermon
Easter is not over! While we celebrated Easter Sunday last week, the fifty day Easter Season continues until Pentecost Sunday.
During this time the Lectionary invites us to dig deep into the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection.
This week the Lectionary gives us the gift of assurance – a confidence that our faith is not just a fantasy, or a distant dream, but is something real and transforming that we can experience and live each day.
Today’s New Testament reading comes from John’s account of Easter evening.
The frightened disciples are gathered in a locked room in Jerusalem when the resurrected Christ appears.
For the next few moments, place yourself in that room.
Imagine the tension, the grief and fear.
Breathe deeply and listen to the words of John 20:19-29.
Here ends the reading of God’s holy word. May He add to our hearing and understanding, his blessings. Amen.
Please pray with me.
Blessed are you, O God of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we receive the legacy of a living hope, born again not only from his death but also from his resurrection.
May we who have received forgiveness of sins through the Holy Spirit live to set others free, until, at length, we enter the inheritance that is imperishable and unfading, where Christ lives and reigns with you and the same Spirit.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Forgiveness is one of the foundational characteristics of our faith life.
We often talk about the importance of forgiving one another for misdeeds or misunderstandings.
We encourage forgiveness of enemies and promote understanding of those who have hurt us.
We talk less about mercy.
It’s not even included in my Handbook of Theological Terms.
Mercy, however, is the really hard work of living a Christian life.
In scripture mercy, is an attribute of both God and the good human being.
It is most often used to refer to loving kindness, love, loyalty and faithfulness.
The New Testament writers used the word mercy when describing the emotion aroused by contact with undeserved suffering – mercy as compassion and a deeply felt love for a fellow human being.
In the Hebrew Scripture mercy and loving kindness is associated with the covenant obligation between God and humans.
Humans must be faithful to the covenant and God binds himself to fidelity to the covenant by mercy and by grace.
Divine and human mercy are closely associated with justice and righteousness because all refer to behavior appropriate to a relationship.
In her new book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy, Ann Lamott proclaims “mercy is radical kindness. Mercy means offering or being offered aid in desperate straits. Mercy is not deserved. It involves absolving the unabsolvable, forgiving the unforgivable. Mercy brings us to the miracle of apology, given and accepted, to unashamed humility when we have erred or forgotten.”
In a blog post last week another author defined ‘mercy’ as the “conscious choice to be kind when one can be cruel.”
I think this is the clearest, most accurate definition I’ve seen.
The dictionary identifies cruelty as the opposite of mercy and notes that the root word ‘merc’ also gives us commerce and merchant – descriptions of exchanges.
In our gospel reading this morning Jesus is the picture of a merciful person.
He stands in the room surrounded by friends who abandoned him.
He comes face-to-face with Peter the denier who just a few days ago adamantly swore “I do not know the man!”
Judas is not there, having killed himself, but the remorse in the room must have been strong…matched only by the fear.
Here stands a man they all thought dead.
A man they had identified as the Son of God, the powerful messiah.
They know what kind of power he has.
They have witnessed miracles of healing and restoration.
Imagine all the things that Jesus could have said…
Jesus says, “Peace Be With You.”
What would you have said?
If you were suddenly in the presence of people who had lied to you, abandoned you in your most dire time of need, allowed you to be tortured and killed…could you offer peace?
This is hard, people.
It is so much easier to see ourselves in the disciples than to see ourselves in the savior.
We can relate to Peter the liar – we know him – perhaps we are him.
Thomas the doubter is familiar to us.
But Jesus the merciful – that bar seems awfully high.
However, it is the season of Easter.
We have baptized a beautiful new baby.
Today we celebrate God’s gift of this amazing earth.
We are reminded that transformation is always possible – grace abounds.
Lamott offers this:
When we manage a flash of mercy for someone we don’t like, especially a truly awful person, including ourselves, we experience a great spiritual moment, a new point of view that can make us gasp.”
The disciples, locked in that room shared a great spiritual moment.
I am quite certain that there were some gasps in the room that night.
Lamott continues: “Mercy, grace, forgiveness, and compassion are synonyms, and the approaches we might consider taking when facing a great big mess, especially the great big mess of ourselves — our arrogance, greed, poverty, disease, prejudice. It includes everything out there that just makes us sick and makes us want to turn away, the idea of accepting life as it presents itself and doing goodness anyway, the belief that love and caring are marbled even into the worst life has to offer.”
Love and caring are marbled even into the worst life has to offer. Wow!
Earth Day was yesterday – a day set aside to honor this remarkable gift from God.
I was thinking about how merciful the earth is to us.
We continue to harm her, exploit her, take advantage of her resources for our own benefit, ignore her needs and yet she keeps healing, restoring, replenishing, refreshing her bounty.
She continues to serve us whether we notice it or not.
Is this not God?
When Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit onto his disciples – into his friends, he is offering the gift we pray for each week: forgiveness, mercy and grace.
He is offering us the comfort of the earth – a place to hold us, to feed us, to nourish us with sunshine and rain.
How different our impact on our world might be if, instead of giving our energy to judgement and criticism and defensiveness, we embraced all people with the confidence of God’s life, God’s love and God’s compassion.
Imagine if we saw ourselves as one with the earth – an extension of God’s goodness carried out in so many ways.
Perhaps we are meant to be the vehicle for mercy in this world.
Maybe we have the power to change things by receiving God’s holy spirit into our lives and then sharing it lovingly with others.
I know it is not easy to offer forgiveness or mercy, but what if we try to so collectively, as the body of Christ?
What if we commit to practicing this basic Christian virtue among ourselves?
Can we learn to refrain from judgment and to offer mercy?
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”
May it be so.
Let us pray.
Gracious, merciful God, we thank you for the tender love you bestow upon us.
We are grateful for the gift of the earth and all of the bounty it provides.
Help us to be good stewards of your creation.
Grant us the grace, we pray to exercise forgiveness and mercy in our relationships.
Hear our prayers this day for those whom we love.
For those who are sick, we pray for healing.
For those who mourn, we pray for comfort.
For those in need of mercy in their lives we pray that your Holy Spirit might find them.
O God, we pray for peace, everywhere.
We turn to you now in the sacred silence of this Meetinghouse with the prayers of our hearts.