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Sermon: Mercy. March 24, 2021

March 24, 2021

Today’s Dispatch is the sermon I preached for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer at Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, IL. The text was Proverbs 14:21-31. The picture is just because I wanted some old school Anders cuteness. Mercy! Be well, friends. You are loved.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace this day in the name of God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. The most amazing thing happened the other day. I was invited over to someone’s house for dinner. Inside! And I went! We shared a cool beverage and then sat down to the table to eat. Masks off and everything! This was only possible, of course, because both I and my hosts are fully vaccinated. It was a delightful evening, especially as my family is out of town and who knows what I would have had for dinner on my own, but prior to COVID it wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary. But now, after all these months, this invitation was a blessing. A sign of grace. An act of mercy. Oh, and it was delicious!
  2. In this last week prior to Holy Week, our devotional attention turns toward acts of mercy. If grace is receiving what we don’t deserve, mercy is not receiving what we do Grace and mercy act together in God’s economy of love toward us. In Christ, we have been mercifully spared what we have earned and gifted instead with grace. We are meant to live likewise, through almsgiving, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, caring for widows and orphans, all of which reveal faith and show, through our actions, Christ’s love to those in need.
  3. You’ll note, no doubt, echoes of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats from Matthew 25, in which Jesus tells us that what we do, or fail to do, to the least of these, we have done, or failed to do, to Christ himself. The Wisdom of the Incarnate Christ is present prior to the Incarnation, of course. We see it in our passage today from the Book of Proverbs, this ancient collection of wisdom. The reading is bookended by calls to mercy: “Those who despise their neighbors are sinners, but happy are those who are kind to the poor;” “Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor them.” The call is crystal clear, flowing from the fountain of life: We are to care for those in need, we are to show them grace and mercy, not because they are less than we are as we look down upon them, but because they are beloved creations of the Maker of all things. There is no one you will meet, on the street corner, in the grocery store, or on your Zoom screen who is not worthy of grace and mercy, for there is no one you will meet who is not marked with the imago Dei, the imprint of the Lord.
  4. Speaking of grocery stores, we were reminded this week that just as there is no one who doesn’t bear the image of God, so is there no place we can go that is safe from evil. For the second sermon in a row, I find myself speaking of a heinous act of gun violence. On Monday, at a King Soopers in Colorado, a young man murdered ten people, including a police officer. We cry out, how long, O Lord? How long must we suffer such massacres and mourn the dead who die too young, too senselessly? This was not grace. This was merciless. This was evil. How long?
  5. In the face of evil, however, we cling to the hope won for us in the victory of Christ. In the absence of grace and mercy in this world, we double down on the grace and mercy of God. Next week we will walk once more with Jesus as he goes to the cross. And what was he doing if not showing kindness to the poor and the needy. We are the ones who stand in need, impoverished by sin and bankrupt in death. Yet in love Christ comes to us. From his dying and rising a new fountain of life breaks forth, the waters of which have crashed over us in our baptism, making us new. You have received grace. You have been given mercy. You are now set free at act upon these gifts; to act with mercy toward others.
  6. It may be a while yet before you are comfortable gathering with others for dinner. It may be a while yet before the doors of Grace Church are flung fully open once more so that we can all gather around the feast of the Lord’s Supper. What a joy that will be! But even separated, we recall the joy and the promise of the banquet of God. Reflecting on Proverbs 14:21 today in Habits of Grace, Pastor Bruce Modahl calls to mind the great feast that is the Kingdom of God, at which the “high and mighty, the lowly and poor have places at the table.” Here God blesses equally with an overflowing abundance. In this broken world, where grace and mercy seem in short supply, God provides abundantly. As Pr. Modahl writes, “Our praise and thanksgiving God gives back to us to make our lives Eucharistic, lives of thanksgiving.” As we slowly, carefully, hopefully make our way out of this pandemic, let’s be sure we don’t just go back to where we were. Christ who was dead is alive. You are alive in him. He is the fountain of life for this whole world. You have been blessed abundantly. Look out for how you can bless others. Everyone you meet is the handiwork of God. Let us be quick to work on their behalf, for happy are those who are kind. In mercy, amazing things will be done.

And now may the peace that passes all human understanding keep you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.

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