October 13, 2019 / Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost /Richard E. Holmer
First Lesson: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c/ Second Reading: 2 Timothy 2:8-15/Gospel: Luke 17:11-19
Mercy Is Our Hope
In a dreadful moment, Amber Guyger’s life was forever changed. Thinking that she had surprised an intruder in her own apartment, the Dallas police officer shot and killed an unarmed man: 26 year old Botham Jean. In fact, Ms. Guyger had mistakenly entered a neighbor’s apartment – and that neighbor, Botham Jean, presented no threat to her. She killed an innocent and defenseless man. She was found guilty of murder and sentenced to ten years in prison. Whatever her intentions, despite her regrets and apologies – actions have consequences. An impulsive response to a misperceived threat dramatically altered the course of her life. Her terrible mistake tragically and unjustly ended another person’s life – and severely impacted her own.
The family of Botham Jean has been devastated by his death. They have lost a son and a brother who was dear to them. The senseless and unnecessary nature of his murder is difficult for all to understand and accept. One moment he was relaxing at home, watching TV and eating ice cream – a moment later his life was violently and abruptly ended, without cause.
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After Amber Guyger was convicted and sentenced for her crime, something very unusual happened. Members of Botham Jean’s family were given the opportunity to speak. The message spoken by Botham’s younger brother, Brandt, included these words: “If you are truly sorry I forgive you. And I know if you go to God and ask him, God will forgive you. I love you just like anyone else. I want the best for you . . . and the best would be: give your life to Christ. Again, I love you as a person. And I don’t wish anything bad on you.” Then, in a moment that was replayed on television around the world, Brandt asked the judge if he could give Amber a hug – and he proceeded to do so. Neither his words or his hug changed the painful reality of his brother’s death. Nor did his compassionate gesture change Amber’s ten year prison sentence. But Brandt’s expression of love and forgiveness altered the mood in that courtroom. It demonstrated the change in his heart from bitter grief to profound hope. And it opened the possibility of redeeming change for Amber Guyger.
Mercy is a powerful and sacred thing. Mercy transforms lives. Mercy brings hope when all hope seems to be washed away.
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Naaman was a powerful, successful man. He was the commander of the army of the King of Aram – which is modern day Syria. Naaman had wealth and influence and status. Naaman also had leprosy – and despite all his powers, he was powerless over that disease. Through the agency of his wife’s maid, Naaman sought help from the prophet Elisha. By the power of a God previously unknown to Naaman, he was completely cured of his leprosy. Through the mercy of God, Naaman’s life was transformed. He found hope in what had seemed to be hopeless circumstances. Naaman was moved by his healing to declare: “Now I know there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.”
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Ten lepers cried out to Jesus: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” and Jesus did show them great mercy. Although only one turned around to give thanks to Jesus, all ten were completely healed. These men who had been living wretched lives, excluded from family and community life, were now restored. Before meeting Jesus, their only future was a life of desolation and loneliness. With their healing, life and hope were renewed.
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For those 10 lepers and for Naaman, for Amber Guyger and for Brandt Jean, and for all of us – our true and lasting hope is in the mercy of God. If God was not merciful, what hope would we have? Week by week we turn to God hoping for mercy, expressing our hopes through a familiar prayer. We pray: “For the peace from above, and for our salvation, let us pray to the Lord. Lord have mercy.” We hope for the peace which this world cannot give – and we hope to be saved from sin and death.
And we pray: “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. Lord have mercy.” Could there be a more audacious hope than this? How could we possibly dare to hope for peace and unity in our conflicted and deeply divided world – except by God’s mercy?
We pray: “help, save, comfort and defend us gracious Lord.” We have high expectations. We ask God to preserve us because we trust and hope in God’s gracious mercy.
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Now mercy does not remove the necessity for justice. Forgiveness for Amber Guyger does not mean what she did was in any way acceptable. It doesn’t mean she will not go to jail. It does mean she can hope for reconciliation and redemption. She can hope to find peace – that peace will find her. The peace of God.
Mercy is not cheap grace. Mercy is not a flimsy cover for our sinfulness. Mercy is not a way for us to avoid responsibility for our mistakes. Mercy is genuine, costly grace – grace that cost God the life of God’s only begotten Son. It is the heart of God’s nature to show mercy. Today’s psalm assures us: “the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.”
It is not our deserving or our pleading that moves God to be merciful. It is a matter of God being true to himself. Today in our Second Reading we are given insight into the nature of our God: “if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” We know that Peter denied Jesus not once, but three times – insisting that he didn’t even know Jesus. Yet Jesus proved faithful to Peter, commissioning him to be responsible for taking care of the faithful flock, saying: “feed my lambs”.
You and I dare to confess our sins to God, admitting our lapses in faith, our failures to love both God and neighbor – because we hope and trust that God will be merciful. We lay our loved ones to rest in the sure and certain hope that this is not the ultimate end for them (or for us). We hope for the mercy of resurrection to eternal life. Because we have experienced the mercy of God in the past, we hope for God’s mercy on us and on this world in times to come.
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And that’s not all . . . Because we hope to receive mercy, we also try to show mercy to one another. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” In that same sermon Jesus teaches us to pray: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Mercy begets mercy. Even as we live in hope of mercy, we must also aim to show mercy. You and I are called to be instruments of God’s grace and mercy in this world:
Feeding the hungry – without questioning if they are deserving
Sheltering the homeless – no matter how they became homeless
Welcoming the refugee – no matter what their race or religion.Supporting the victims of natural disasters.
Forgiving those who have wronged us.
This is what it means to live in and with MERCY. Our actions can point to God more clearly than our words. Those who experience mercy can be moved to find hope in the God who is the source of all mercy.
We cannot know for certain what effect mercy will have on persons – persons like Amber Guyger. However, we can decide what effect God’s mercy will have on us. Because of God’s great mercy, we can keep turning around and taking the time to thank and praise God. We can refuse to let bitterness take root in our hearts when we are wronged by others. We can be eager and ambitious to show mercy to any and all who are in need. We can incline our hearts in the direction of gracious mercy – because this 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 3:22-23)