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Grief is heavy this week. So is anger. It’s difficult to find words.
Mercy is our topic for the day and it’s hard to talk about mercy unless we’re talking about God’s mercy and even then it’s hard to talk about mercy this week. Somehow our idea of mercy seems to challenge our sense of justice. We can see so clearly when mercy hasn’t been shown in our world. So, it’s hard to talk about mercy this week. And for weeks now we haven’t gone two days without devastating tragic news about what is happening in the world and in our own country. I was still reeling from the news of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile when I woke up on Friday morning and Keenan said, “There was another shooting. Police in Dallas were shot last night.” My heart is broken and I am afraid.The world seems to be coming apart at the seams.
It’s hard to talk about mercy after a week like this one but perhaps it’s what we need. Perhaps in reflecting on mercy, we’ll find some hope. Or perhaps we aren’t there quite yet. Either way, we’re here together looking for words that will help. We’re here together feeling helpless. We’re here together feeling broken.
“Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.”
That’s when we use the word mercy most often, isn’t it? In a prayer, in the church, when we speak of sacred things. We use it, too, in confession. We ask God for mercy when considering us and our sinfulness. When we acknowledge our own brokenness before God. That’s when we use the word mercy. We don’t use it in our daily lives. We don’t often ask others for mercy or grant others mercy. Instead we are quick to spout our opinion, to react to the volatile Facebook post, to question the experience of another, to diminish the humanity of another. I wonder what it would be like if we were all a little more merciful? If we exercised compassion, if we practiced forbearance, if we were kind to everyone, if we gave people the benefit of the doubt, if we didn’t assume the worst, if we were humble enough to realize we don’t have all the answers, if we stopped to consider the power of our words whether in person or from the perceived safety of a keyboard, if forgiveness was our goal. I wonder.
We use the word mercy when we confess. We ask for God’s mercy. We ask for God to give us what we don’t deserve: grace. We ask for God to forego punishment and absolve us. We call upon God to be God: to be slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. We want for God to deal mercifully with us, because we know we’re in trouble otherwise. This week is a good time to confess. It’s a good time to confess that we are broken people participating in broken systems. It’s a good time to confess that we stay silent when we should speak out. It’s a good time for us to confess that we have allowed fear and hate to rule our lives. It’s a good time for us to confess that we are racist, sexist, xenophobic, and complicit in systems that perpetuate these things. It’s a good time for us to fall on our knees asking for God’s mercy because we know that we do not exercise mercy in our own lives.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.
I’m not sure when we began to diminish the humanity of others but it’s an epidemic in our country. We talk about us and them. We think that supporting one group of people automatically means we can’t and don’t support another group of people. We choose sides. We point fingers instead of grasping hands. We vilify and we shame. We paint with a broad brush. We do not hold all people accountable in equal measure. Lord, your children are killing each other and we’re a part of the system, have mercy on us. We know deep down in our hearts that violence begets violence. And we don’t know how to stop it. It is daunting. It is wearying. Lord, in your mercy, hear us.
We use the word mercy when we pray. We ask for God to hear us. We ask for God to give us what we don’t deserve: grace and a listening ear. And now is a good time to pray. It’s a good time to pray for our country, for our neighbors, for the marginalized, for those who live in fear, for those tasked with protecting our communities, for all of us, for the world. It’s a good time to pray. And in a week like this one we realize that sometimes prayer is all we can muster. When the world is falling apart at the seams, we must pray. We must cry out. We must lament. The psalmist so eloquently cried out from the pit time and again. I’m not sure I’m quite as eloquent but cry out, I must. How long, O Lord? When will it stop? Bring comfort, O God. Grant us your peace. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.
God, whose very nature is compassion and mercy, hears the cries of God’s own beloved children. The Beatitudes gives us a vision of the way things ought to be and the way things will be, and I think we can all agree we aren’t there yet. This world that we live in is a far cry from God’s intention. And yet, God is in the business of redeeming that which has gone awry. God is in the business of bringing light out of the darkness. God is in the business of bringing dead things back to life. God is in the business of forgiveness and steadfast love. And so, we pray. Sometimes our prayers are filled with grief. Sometimes our prayers are filled with anger. Sometimes our prayers are weary. Sometimes our prayers are filled with tears. When we don’t know what else to do, we pray. We place this world and the people in it in God’s care.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.
I want us to pray continually but I also want us to act. We can’t stop with prayer. We are the hands and feet of Christ in this world. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” That’s a call on our lives, my friends. It’s a call to act with compassion, to practice forbearance, and to forgive. Are those automatic things for any of us? In these things we are to be imitators of God…slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, merciful, compassionate. It’s a serious call. It’s a tall order. And it’s one that we choose each day. The writer of Colossians suggests we put these things on as we would our own clothes. We are to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. We are to bear with one another and forgive one another. And the thing that binds all the others together is love. The steadfast love of the Lord which we have received in and through Jesus Christ, that’s what holds it all together and gives us the ability to love our neighbors. That’s where we find our hope in that perfect love that drives out fear.
Those who are following the lectionary this summer are reading the story of the good Samaritan today. They’ll be asking the question “who is my neighbor?” It’s a worthy question for us, too. I think that Alton Sterling was my neighbor. I think that Philando Castile was my neighbor. I think that Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamorripa, Michael Kor, Michael Smith, and Lorne Ahrens, the police officers in Dallas were my neighbors. And I pray today that their families find comfort and peace. I pray that the deep divisions in our communities will be bridged by those who work for peace. I pray that we might be agents of that peace. I pray for the day to come when we will not judge one another out of fear and hate, skin color and uniform. Lord, in your mercy, hear my prayer.
As a people, as a church, as a nation, I think that we are grieving and we need to allow space for that grief. It’s difficult for us to find that space and that time when we are so bombarded with constant news stories and Facebook posts and opinions. It’s difficult to slow down let alone stop for a minute to consider that we are all in this together. We grieve the senseless loss of life. We grieve the violence. We grieve over the state of things. We grieve over our own part in it. It’s overwhelming.
There’s a quote from the Talmud that I’ve seen floating around lately. You may have seen it, too. It is this:
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete
the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
This, of course, is commentary on a verse we know well: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
Today is the day. It is time for us, church, to have hard conversations. It is time for us to confess. It is time for us to pray. It is time for us to act. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Rev. Alex Rodgers
Decatur Presbyterian Church
July 10, 2016
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
Join us for worship on Sunday mornings at 10:30 am and at 5 pm on the 1st Sunday.
Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God’s Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
205 Sycamore Street, Decatur, GA 30030