Showing and Receiving Mercy
One of the points that I tried to make several times when we looked at the 10 Commandments was that God divided the commandments into two sections: the first four commandments deal with our relationship with Him and the last six deal with our relationship with one another. You might remember the quote from Nadia Bolz-Weber who said; God didn’t give the Jews the 10 Commandments to save them from the world, but to save the world from the them.
It should not come as a surprise that the beatitudes follow the same pattern: The first four deal with our relationship to God. We are poor in spirit admitting our need for Him. We mourn our sin and surrender to God’s control. We repent of our self sufficiency and learn to depend on Christ. And that leads us to develop a hunger for righteousness.
After our relationship is made right with God we then turn our focus on our relationship with one another. The second section of the beatitudes begins with the law of direct return. In Matthew 5:7 we read “Blessed are the merciful, because they will be shown mercy.” We can find happiness when we show mercy to others, because mercy will be shown to you. In essence; the amount of mercy you show to others is in direct proportion to the amount of mercy you receive.
You see people every day who are bound in a dungeon of resentment. When a blanket of bitterness covers your soul, it sours your outlook and suffocates your joy. But those who have discovered the secret of true peace and joy, know the blessing comes from showing mercy. We want mercy, we want folks to notice our mistakes and shortcomings and love us anyway. We long for and need mercy.
All of us would estimate that we are merciful, but we are not always honest with ourselves. There are times when I overstate my own goodness. Being merciful is the idea of getting inside someone’s skin, to look at how they view life and feel what they are experiencing. Showing mercy is basically moving in and acting on behalf of the one who is hurting. That’s what Jesus did when He chose to leave the comfort and glory of Heaven to become one of us.
God’s story is consumed with His concern about His people showing mercy; from the law found in Deuteronomy 15 about showing mercy to the poor to Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees in Matthew 23 because they were more concerned about rules than people. We can take all of the Bible’s teaching on mercy and boil it down to one simple command Merciful people help hurting people.
I don’t remember his name, but I heard a comedian being interviewed and he was asked if he was a religious person. He responded, “I am very religious, I’m a Jehovah’s bystander!" I had to rewind that to hear him again. A Jehovah’s bystander, someone who believes in God on an intellectual level but is content to stand by and do nothing. A merciful person is not a Jehovah’s bystander, they see a person who is hurting and they show mercy. Another way to look at what Jesus is saying would be; happy are those who get involved.
You may know someone who’s going through a nasty divorce or someone in your office is dealing with a loved one that is in the hospital. You may know a young couple that is struggling trying to find their way with a few kids in the house, or an older couple struggling with the loneliness in their home now that their kids have grown up and moved on. There are people all around us that are in the middle of a struggle and we are in a unique position to offer mercy. There are people who have been left for dead or in a pit of despair and God wants us to get in that pit with them and help them out.
King Solomon writes in Proverbs 3:27, Do not withhold good from those who need it, when it is in your power to act. I need a tattoo on my forehead to remind me that faith is a verb, it’s an action word. Mercy is one of those actions that must be seen in my life if I am going to wear Christ’s name. Mercy is love in action. When we see someone in distress and we feel sorry for them but that’s as far as we go then we have tarnished the name of Christ that we wear.
The Apostle writes in 1 John 3:17-18, Now, suppose a person had enough to live on and notices another in need. How can God’s love be in that person if he doesn’t bother to help? Dear children, we must show love through actions, not through empty words. This is one of the reasons that I love John’s letter, it’s so convicting. You can claim to have God’s love and presence in your life, but how you choose to bless others reveals the truth in your life. I believe it was John Wesley who came away from this verse with the idea we must Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, to all the people you can, as long as you can.
When someone is hurting a merciful person doesn’t mind getting involved. While that sounds great, I understand that there are some of us here today and online that want to be merciful, we just have no idea where to start. So let’s unpack this idea of mercy and talk about a few ways we can practically share mercy with folks that are hurting.
First, we can share mercy by welcoming the peculiar.
One of the first sermons I every preached here, was that Jesus loves misfits. Here we are 5 years later and His love hasn’t changed. We come in contact with folks who are a bit bizarre several times a week. One of the ways that we cry out for attention, we cry out to be noticed, is by being loud, obnoxious, or just plain weird. A great indicator of how merciful you are is found in how you treat those who are different from you. One of the things mercy produces is tolerance.
Never forget that our community and world are filled with people who are living in pain. Just because they seem whole on the outside doesn’t mean they are not a train wreck emotionally or spiritually. It’s helpful to stop focusing so much on an external behavior and look more closely at their internal hurt. Usually behind every peculiar action there is a need for attention caused by loneliness, hurt, frustration, or depression. Merciful people are willing to accept everyone created in the image of God, no matter how tarnished that image has become.
Paul reminds us in Romans 15:7, accept one another in the Lord, as Christ has accepted you. This is not a call to condone the sin in other people’s lives, this is a call to give people an environment where they can break free from their sin. Remember what Jesus told the woman caught in the act of adultery? Neither do I condemn you, now go and leave your life of sin.
It is helpful to remember that there have been times in my life where my sin had caused me to be a bit peculiar. Paul writes that we’ve all sinned and come short of the glory of God. Everyone of us have had times in our lives when we’ve struggled with sin. We all know what it’s like to battle addictions and behavior patterns that we wish we didn’t have.
Paul describes mercy in Galatians 6:1-2, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. When you encounter someone struggling in a sin you should go and show them mercy. As you see their struggle remember a time when you struggled and love them back to God. Don’t leave them in their sin but gently bring them back to God.
That’s what Jesus was saying with the story of the lost sheep in Luke 15. The shepherd went out in the hills and among the cliffs looking for a sheep that went astray. When he found the sheep he slapped the sheep and called it names adding insult to injury. Then he tied a rope around it’s neck and dragged it back to the fold. Is that what your bible says? That’s not what happened, He picked up the sheep and tenderly put it on his shoulders and went home rejoicing. That’s the story of mercy.
The second way we can show mercy is by being kind, even to our enemies.
This is one of those teaching of Jesus that turns out to be a lot easier said that lived. This type of life is countercultural. When someone hurts you, you want to hurt them back. Don’t get mad, get even. But Jesus lived a lifestyle that showed mercy is action, not reaction. When we show mercy to our enemies it stands out and we take notice.
This week in my news feed, there was a story that was shared over and over about a rally that was held in South Carolina. On July 18th on the north side of the state house the Black Educators for Justice held a rally while on the south side of the state house the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan held their own rally. These two groups shouted and screamed at one another and none of that was news worthy. But in the midst of this viper pit, mercy broke through. Apparently the heat was a bit to much for one of the men attending the rally on the south side and he needed help to get out of the heat. Rob Godfrey snapped this picture of Public Safety Director Leroy Smith helping an unnamed KKK member out of the heat. While we ignored the rallies and the hate that was spewed that day, we stopped and took notice of this display of mercy.
The whole reason that Jesus is having this conversation on this hill is because He wants us to live differently than the world. Jesus says in Luke 6; If you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. … Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
There might be a person in your life that drives you crazy. They might say mean things about you behind your back. Someone who gossips and complains about everything you do. Every time they open their mouth they hurt your feelings! You worse impulse is to punch them in the throat and your best impulse is to scream “Stop it! Leave me alone!”
This is where you can show mercy and act differently. This is where you swallow the desire to get them back and do even worse. This is where you choose to act out of mercy instead of justice. I would like to say that when they see your reaction they will change their behavior, but the truth is that they will probably continue to be bitter and nasty. But we act on what Christ has done in our lives so we share the greater mercy we have received.
A tangible mark of spiritual maturity is when you can do good to your enemies. Not just forgive them, do good to them. In that wonderful backwoods logic, my grandfather used to tell me the best way to destroy an enemy is to make them your friend. You can do that by showing them mercy in spite of what they do to you.
Finally, We can show mercy by learning how to forgive people.
Have you noticed when you receive forgiveness it is so easy and feels so right, but when we are called to give forgiveness it is so hard and feels so wrong? When we are sinned against it’s not natural for us to show mercy, we want justice. That’s why Paul has to remind us in Colossians 3:13, Be gentle and ready to forgive; never hold grudges. Remember the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.
I think Peter was pretty normal when he heard Jesus talking about showing mercy through forgiveness. He wanted to put a number on it, exactly how much mercy am I expected to give? How many times as I expected to allow someone put me in a position when I feel hurt and pain and then I am expected to show mercy? That’s the heart of his question in Matthew 18.
If you have spent any time in Matthew 18, you are familiar with what Jesus said about dealing with personal conflict. In verses 15-18, Jesus says if someone sins against you, first you go to them personally, then take others with you. Try to get the problem fixed, and go beyond what you think is right to find peace. The culture of the Kingdom is different that the culture of our world.
Peter has heard what Jesus had to say, and he’s a little concerned. Peter understands what he is to do, he just wants to know how many times he has to do it! So in typical Peter fashion he approaches Jesus and says, Lord, when someone has sinned against me, how many times ought I forgive him? Once? Twice? As many as seven times? When do we get to the eye for eye, tooth for tooth part of this process?
Jesus’ answer is a bit troubling; You must forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven! The troubling part for Peter, for me, and for you is that Jesus is not putting a quantity on the times we are called to show mercy, Jesus uses numbers that the disciples understood as infinite. Peter clearly understands that a merciful person does not limit the times he forgives.
So a merciful person is one who can forgive the fallen. And that doesn’t just apply to those who have sinned against you but to those who have made mistakes that you just cannot understand. All of us have areas vulnerable to temptation. Maybe you can’t understand how someone can have an ego problem, and they don’t get why you struggle with gossip. Maybe you cannot conceive how anyone could ever take drugs, and they can’t fathom your inability to deal with greed. How do you treat the fallen? Merciful people don’t point a finger, they lend a helping hand.
I fully understand how difficult this beatitude is to live on Tuesday morning and Friday evening. But let me try to encourage you by sharing two reasons we need to live a life of mercy. The first reason to be merciful is because God is merciful to me.
There are going to be people who mistreat you, who owe you and won’t pay, who are really jerks. I’m sure it surpasses you to know that there are jerks in the world. Don’t look around and point at them, we all know there are jerks in the world.
When people are being jerks and you are having a hard time dealing with them, take a moment to remember the times you have been a jerk. I think of all the flack that God has taken from me. I can’t count all the times I’ve done things my own way, all the dumb stunts I’ve pulled, all the ways I’ve sinned; and yet God still loves me. If He can be merciful to me, with all I’ve done, then I should be motivated to be merciful to others. Thank God for His mercy and strive to be merciful.
The second reason to be merciful is because I’m going to need mercy in the future.
I don’t expect to be perfect until I die. Do you? The truth is that there will come a time, maybe in the next 30 minutes that we are going to need mercy. Not only have I needed it in the past, I’ll need more in the future. I am convicted by what James writes in James 2:13, no mercy will be shown to those who have not been merciful. In other words, you get what you give. Mercy is not getting what we deserve, but what we need. And that should motivate us to give because we will need it.