This is the fourth sermon in a five-part series written by Pastor Coons titled, “Living God’s Priorities.”
Living God’s Priorities
“The Priority of Mercy”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
March 30, 2014
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
A proverbial saying tells us that “people don’t care what you know until they know you care.” For me it was my Dad, who more than anyone else, embodied this saying. Dad knew a lot of things about a lot of things. He knew the ins and outs of Franklin Square Hospital better than anyone—all the doors, all the locks, all the entry systems, all the security cameras. He knew how to investigate incidents and to get things done in a timely and orderly way. But all that knowledge would not have done him a lick of good if he didn’t care about the people he served in his daily vocation in hospital security. From the highest administrator at the hospital to the lowest member of the hospital staff, everyone knew Dad cared about them, about their well-being and safety, about their particular need at the time.
What my Dad was doing for 43 years at Franklin Square was showing loving kindness in action. He was living the priority of mercy—loving his neighbors by showing mercy “to the least of these” in the name of Jesus. This morning let’s consider together our Lord’s priority for our lives of faith that we love others by showing mercy to them in word and action.
To begin, why is there a need for mercy? Let’s start with ourselves. Do we need to be shown mercy? Oh, yes we do! Consider who and what we are by our very nature—sinful, unclean. Sinful and unclean places us squarely on the wrong side of God. In fact, it places us under the very bull’s eye of God judgment. Psalm 1:5, “The wicked will not survive the judgment, and sinners will not be in the community of the righteous.” Why is this true? Because, as sinners, we deserve nothing but God’s wrath and punishment. When it comes to sin (any thought, desire, word, or action that is contrary to God’s Word), we are to get what we truly deserve—punishment from God, His wrath and displeasure, physical death, and eternal damnation. If you curse or swear, breaking the Second Commandment, you deserve God’s punishment. If you lust or covet, you earn God’s judgment. If you gossip or cheat, you merit God’s anger. If you lie or slander, you are worthy of God’s condemnation. If you sin, justice demands death.
A mother once approached Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed a certain offense twice and justice demanded death. “But I don’t ask for justice,” the mother explained. “I plead for mercy.”
“But your son does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon replied.
“Sir,” the woman cried, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for.”
“Well, then,” the emperor said, “I will have mercy.” And he spared the woman’s son.
As sinners, we deserve nothing from God. God has every right to condemn and punish us according to His perfect justice. But, instead, He chose to have mercy on sinners. Divine mercy is an act of God’s will. It is His grace in action, God’s undeserved favor toward sinners. In His mercy, the Lord gives daily bread to all people, good and evil alike. He mercifully provides everything we need for the support of our bodies by making the earth fruitful and by giving people the ability to work for the things they need.
But the greatest act of mercy God has shown to sinners is found in the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. God the Father loved sinners so much that, instead of giving us what we deserve in punishment and death, He gives us what we don’t deserve, mercy. In order to have mercy on us, Jesus Christ had to receive the punishment for our sins. Jesus had to receive the full anger and wrath of the Father’s judgment against our sins. He had to suffer death and hell in our place. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”(Matt. 26:39 ESV) The cup of which our Lord spoke was a chalice filled to brim with the eternal wrath, anger, and judgment of the holy God. In order to show mercy to us, Jesus had to down that cup by drinking it. And that meant being nailed to the cross. It meant bearing in His body our sins. It meant God the Father turning His back on His only Son, abandoning Him completely to the God-forsakenness of hell as His only Son suffered and bled under God’s wrath.
But then came the cry of victory. Having suffered the full justice of God’s anger against the sins of the world, having endured hell for us, Jesus said, “It stands finished.” Done. “Payment is made in full. Your people, dear Father, now receive your mercy in the forgiveness of sins.” As Christians, you and I are the recipients of the greatest act of mercy ever—Jesus’ death on the cross. Through Jesus’ death and His triumphant Easter resurrection, you and I receive the complete forgiveness for all our sins—for our cursing and swearing, lusting and coveting, gossip, cheating, lying and slandering. Because our sins are forgiven in Christ, you and I are given everlasting life. We no longer must fear eternal death and hell. Jesus has saved us from them.
By the grace and mercy of God, the Holy Spirit calls us by this Gospel of Jesus Christ to faith in Him as Lord and Savior. The Spirit sanctifies, which means He makes us holy. The Spirit makes us more and more to be like Christ so that we can extend the mercy of God in Jesus to others.
The Lord Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45) As those whom Christ has served with mercy and love through His cross and resurrection, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to serve our neighbors with the love and mercy of Jesus first shown to us. And this happens in our everyday lives as Christians, frequently going unnoticed by us.
Since my Dad’s call to glory in the nearer presence of Jesus, we have heard a lot of folks sharing with us the acts of love and mercy he showed to them. But he never really talked about them. Some of the things we never knew. I know, for Dad, he was just doing his job. But he was doing his “job” as a Christian, too. So all the opportunities that he had to show mercy, and which you and I have to show mercy, a lot of them will pass us by as not much of anything. But when we are all gathered together in our resurrection bodies on the Last Day, when we stand before the Lord of Love and Mercy Himself, He will say to us, “’Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer [us], ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matt. 25:34-40 ESV)
Our Christian faith bears fruit in the love and mercy we show to others, often without our even being aware of it. But living the priority of mercy also involves intentional acts of mercy and Christian service. As Christians, we look at life through the “opportunity eyes” of faith active in love and mercy. Encouraged by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament, we seek out opportunities to serve others with the mercy and love of Jesus. We do this as a congregation in the Food Shelf Ministry and Prayer Shawl Ministry. We do this through our corporate prayers on a Sunday morning, in our prayer circles, and in our individual prayers. Maybe you’ve never thought of prayer as showing mercy and love to others, but it is. Other things we can do for our neighbors include making a meal for the family who is sick down the street, or for the family who has just had a baby! Paying a visit or making a phone call to those who are lonely or shut-in is a great way to show the love of Jesus in mercy. Financial contributions, as well as offerings of time and talent, for the mercy work of the congregation and the greater Church can help show the mercy of Christ to more people than we could individually.
So look at your life with the mercy-eyes of Jesus. Search for various new opportunities to show mercy, and then do it! Consider where you can show mercy this week, to whom you can show that mercy, and how you can put mercy into action. Remember, people don’t care what you know until people know you care. Show them how much Jesus cares by showing mercy whenever and wherever you can. Amen.