Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mercy Sakes!

Matthew 18:15-20

In my summer reading and reflection I have focused a bit on the themes of reconciliation, forgiveness and the health of faith communities. I had two main reasons for doing that. One is the larger picture of my work as the Chair of both the Christian Unity Commission for the Reformed Church in America and the Chair of the team assigned to promote the adoption of the Belhar Confession for the Reformed Church. The Belhar Confession, as I hope you know is the confession of faith written by the Reformed Churches in South Africa as they worked through the terrible and violent struggle of institutional racism in their country. You will be hearing a lot more about this throughout the year – this is a confession all about the reconciliation of people who have been in conflict and conflict is a gross understatement in this case – it’s a beautiful story and witness to the power of the gospel to heal division and if we adopt it – this will be the first confession we will have adopted in 400 years. Friends think about that – little Pultneyville will be leading the whole church in this historic endeavor!

And, quite candidly and as we all know, little Pultneyville needs this confession and the healing witness of its message of reconciliation - so I will try to share some thoughts throughout the fall on the theme – since its not only what we need in little Pultneyville – but what we all need in so many parts of our lives.

Let me begin by sharing a story I found – it happened back in March.

March is the time of year in New England when hints of spring tease the romantic spirit. A time when winter’s darkness and dreariness begin to yield to new life. When crocuses and daffodil shoots start stretching through what’s left of the snow. And the birds you haven’t heard for months commence the singing of songs silenced by old Jack Frost and the heart is ripe for promise.

Well maybe. Yankees are a cautious bunch. Too many false springs. One too many an unkind show of winter’s last gasp after you have seeded and spring cleaned.

It’s the mission of the poet and even the preacher/theologian to crack the shell of native suspicion. That’s why this story grabbed me. There is a powerful message in here somewhere of Gospel to life proportions – yet one that makes me wary as all get-out.

A 62 year old man shot and killed his wife. Despondent over his younger wife’s flagrant unfaithfulness – not to mention her flaunting it in his face – this man took her life. The straw that broke the camel’s back came when his only child – a gifted high school senior – fled their home to escape the treats of his mother and her lover.

Alone and unable to speak but a few words of English – the slight and grieving man sought to take his own life to no avail. Jail – indictment and trial soon followed.

But here is where the climate of this all too familiar type of story changes. FAMILY OF VICTIM WINS MERCY FOR KILLER was the headline. For the first time in the experience of the trail judge – every member of the victim’s family came to court to plead for mercy for her slayer.

With open arms we’ll take him back they told the prosecutor. We want justice in the form of mercy, they told the court. And it happened – the man was released to the custody of his wife’s family.

Mercy sakes! Here is a story of biblical proportions – a testimony to new life for us to consider at the transition time of Labor Day weekend’s rituals and the battening down of the hatches for winter.

Stories of infidelity – anger and violence are all too common – seldom followed by stories of mercy, forgiveness, acceptance and new life.

Our lesson from the gospel sprung up to me as a stunning surprise – in light of my summer assignment. What we have before us is a passage I did not choose. This – my friends is the lectionary assigned to this Sunday – and - as is quite often the case – the lectionary has its own power – the way the assigned reading falls upon us in our given situations is often profound and needs no more than for the passage to be read – the application is right in front of our noses. So I will just poke about it a little this morning and then allow you to finish the sermon throughout your week.

Now first off – remember this is Matthew writing to us here not Mark or Luke or John for that matter – they don’t tell us this part. It’s Matthew who was himself a converted scoundrel. And he is writing to people who are trying to live together in a whole new way – as a church. We tend to hear stuff about how to live as a church with a bit of blah – blah – blah in the background – but this was urgent stuff for his listeners – they were trying to piece together all they were learning about the teachings of Jesus and trying to take it seriously and figure out how to live in this new way.

Now let me pause here. Friends – I really think we – little Pultneyville – need to put ourselves back in that place. Imagine taking hold of this Jesus story brand new – I challenge you not to simply follow your old patterns – your old ways – but to persistently think of the very lifestyle Jesus calls you to and figure out from there how you will respond to the things that happen to you.

Let me give you a painful personal example and I realize it may sound petty. While on vacation I read one of the more thought provoking and insightful books I have come across in a few years. It’s called The Shack and I have chosen not to use it in illustration yet because it has some real O Henry sorts of twists in it and I really want us all to read it before we talk about it. But let’s just say that it’s all about rethinking how we live as people of Jesus in the world. So – I have just come off a morning of gentle profound reading of this book challenging me to rethink my approach to mercy, forgiveness, etc. Donna and I have gotten ourselves out into a couple of kayaks on Saranac Lake. To contain our dear one and half year old black lab – Donna has locked her in MY car. Not unusual – since she often stays in my car when we travel. Well this time apparently our water dog was pretty miffed that we would go out on the lake with out her.

I returned from our leisurely cruise to release her from captivity to discover the wonderful leather upholstery of my driver side door shredded. I just stood there staring at her adorable face pressed against the window – not a clue that I am going to strangle this dog and/or the woman who put her in MY car. But the power of the story I had been reading saved their lives. In all seriousness – it really did affect me. With the story on my mind – it transformed the way I was living into this experience. Oh I was angry – no story is going to keep us from emotions – and there was nothing Ok about what Donna and Maya had done to my car - but it deeply affected how I saw myself living into this experience before me.

What Matthew places before us are the words of Jesus to a community of people who in a new way are structuring themselves around Christ’s living and abiding presence among them. Even though it sounds like Matthew gives them a three step procedure from some church manual on discipline (and the Lord knows we have lived through enough of that!) the punch line – where the Master is at his best is about the binding and losing of sins and sinners – its not ultimately about justice – its not ultimately about trials and judgments –its about the forming and forging of a community – its about love and love is about mercy. The words of Jesus take us to restoration and reconciliation not retaliation.

The renewal within one family in New England might well be the model for renewal within the family of the church – who as we know – is no stranger to its own kind of brokenness.

I deeply encourage you to listen to the words we will sing in our concluding hymn this morning.

For by the life and death of Jesus, God’s

Mighty Spirit, now as then

Can make a world of difference, as

Faith and hope are born again.

Then let us with the Spirit’s daring, step from

The past and leave behind

Our disappointment, guilt and grieving,

Seeking new paths and sure to find.

Christ is alive and goes before us to show

And share what love can do.

This is a day of new beginnings; our God

is making all things new.

Truth be told sin – to use that old church word – as terrible as it is, sin is not the worst possibility. Sin is compounded when followed by what is usually – tragically – left in its path – separation – rancor – reprisal. What tragedy this family knew – they could never replace the life

that was taken from them. But they were able to GIVE new life through their forgiveness. And that – I believe is what Jesus meant. They loosed a sin on earth that it might be loosed in heaven.

The rest of this sermon is yours for the making. Amen.

HMD 9.7.08

Labels: ,


  • At 11:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    [url=]price of generic lipitor
    [/url]lipitor price egypt
    lipitor price rm
    Atorvastatin order online generic
    lipitor buy on line
    lipitor price pharmacy

  • At 6:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    [url=]buy Generic 200 mg Sustiva online
    [/url] order Efavirenz 500 mg online
    order Generic Sustiva 600 mg online
    purchase Sustiva 600 mg online


Post a Comment

<< Home