July 22, 2018/Ninth Sunday After Pentecost/Richard E. Holmer
First Lesson: Jeremiah 23:1-6/Second Reading: Ephesians 2:11-22/Gospel: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Lord, Have Mercy
I take great comfort in the words found in the final verse of Psalm 23: Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life….”
We admire goodness. We are drawn to goodness and inspired by it. We even aspire to goodness – to become better than we are. As Christ’s followers we are called to be good and to do good. And we do try – some days we try harder than others. Over time we can get better, we can do a lot of good. Nevertheless, we all fall short of true goodness. I am well aware that I am not all good, all the time. Like St. Paul says in Romans: “The good that I would, I do not do” (Romans 7) and as Jesus bluntly states: “No one is good but God” (Mark 10:18)
So as much as I admire goodness, what I really need is mercy. Because my thoughts, words and deeds are less than good, I am at a loss without mercy. God’s goodness is perhaps best expressed in the mercy God shows to one and all. If goodness is the gold standard to which we aspire, mercy is how God meets us where we are – and makes us right. In mercy God gives us not what we deserve, but what we truly need. God lifts us when we are down hearted. God forgive us when we have gone astray. God fills our cup when it is empty. God gives peace in times of stress and conflict. God gives rest when we are weighed down with heavy burdens.
Because I am in constant need of mercy, I always appreciate the prayer we offer most every Sunday, early in our service. In liturgical shorthand it is called the “Kyrie” The Greek phrase Kyrie Eleison is translated “Lord have mercy”. We repeat this simple heartfelt prayer for mercy after each petition is offered. Last Sunday as we chanted this prayer together, I was moved by the power and beauty of these words we repeat, week after week – all our life.
The prayer begins: “In peace, let us pray to the Lord” Today’s reading from Ephesians reminds us that Jesus is our peace. It is Jesus who breaks down the walls of suspicion and envy, bitterness and fear which divide us. Because we know Jesus, we experience the blessing of peace – and we know that we can freely approach Jesus without fear, but in confidence that he is eager to hear from us. And so we pray in peace – trusting that the Lord will gladly listen and respond.
The “Kyrie” continues: “For the peace from above, and for our salvation, let us pray to the Lord” There is a kind of worldly peace that we experience. We know moments that are free of stress, when we experience health and well-being, when there are no immediate threats or concerns. Such peace is good – yet it is often fleeting. It depends entirely on circumstances being in our favor – and our circumstances can change in a hurry. The peace from above is peace this world cannot provide. Christ provides an assurance and a clam that stay with us, in spite of whatever our circumstances may be. Jesus spoke these encouraging words to his followers: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27) [Words have meant a lot to me in the weeks since my brother died] Paul discusses the blessing God gives as “the peace which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
We also pray for our salvation. Ultimately we look forward to eternal life with God, being saved from death. In the near term we experience salvation through the forgiveness of all our sins. To be set free from the fear of death and the guilt of sin is to experience real peace.
The next petition widens our concern beyond our physical needs: “For the peace of the whole world, for the well-being of the church of God and for the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord” Week by week we pray not only for ourselves, but for the entire world and everyone in it. We pray to the One who has the whole world in his hands – asking that all might be freed from threats and violence and conflict. In our Second Reading Paul describes how Christ has broken down the walls that divide, seeking “to create in himself one new humanity” We ask that we might recognize and embrace this unity among all people. We also ask God to preserve the Church – that the church might itself be an instrument of the peace and unity God intends for all.
The focus returns to those who are gather in this place for worship- “for this holy house and for all who offer here their worship and praise, let us pray to the Lord”. “This holy house” has dual meaning: 1) we pray for this beautiful building that is our church home, our sanctuary. 2) The “holy house” is also the household of God, the family of believers, all those who love and follow Jesus. It is a sign of God’s great mercy that we are able to come together in this place to offer our worship and praise to God. We give praise and thanks to God – yet you and I are the ones who are strengthened and renewed by doing so. Worship is not only our duty – it is our joy.
The Kyrie concludes by asking God for continuing providence and protection: “Help, save, comfort and defend us , gracious Lord” We acknowledge our human frailty and vulnerability. We are not able to defend ourselves against all the threats and dangers of this world. We ask God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. This is the essence of mercy: In gracious mercy God grants us what we can neither accomplish or deserve on our own.
Because they are not able to fend for themselves sheep need a shepherd to lead and defend and provide for them. Because you and I are vulnerable, because we are mortal, because we are sinners we need mercy. Sad to say, many in our world are either unaware or else unwilling to believe that God’s mercy is available to them. Pope Francis wrote a book titled: “the name of God is Mercy”, and he makes this observation about humanity: “the Fragility of our era is this too: We don’t believe that there is a chance for redemption, for a hand to raise you up, for an embrace to save you, forgive you, pick you up, flood you with infinite, patient, indulgent love; to put you back on your feet. We need mercy”
My guess is that most of us would not be here this morning if we had not experienced the mercy of God. I depend on God’s mercy and I have experienced the wonder that God’s goodness and mercy really do continue to follow me through all my days – both good and bad. Every time we pray the Kyrie, this familiar part of our worship, we are acknowledging God as the source of all mercy, thanking God for mercies received, and asking God to continue to show mercy to us all. This much we know and believe: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22)
Thanks be to God