Soldiers of Mercy
SOLDIERS OF MERCY
Once on a Saturday I walked into the Starbucks over at Ward’s Corner shopping center. For some reason this particular Starbucks had decided that it was Disney musical day that Saturday. Different Disney musicals were playing over the loud speakers in the store. I got to admit that I was more than a little annoyed. Granted Disney owns The Star Wars franchise and the Marvel franchise, hence Disney owns much of what I love and hold dear, but my experience with Disney had not always been so positive. When I was around eleven years old my family was at Walt Disney World old and I got stuck with my mother on the It’s A Small World After All ride. She and I were suspended in the air in a fake pirate ship that hung from the ride tracks above us. Apparently, the air breaks on our pirate ship jammed, stopping the ride completely. I remember listening to the song “it’s a small world after all” for around forty five minutes to an hour. The technicians apparently didn’t know how to shut the music off. If that was the case it had the opposite effect of driving me crazy. After about an hour the engineers released the air breaks on my mother and I’s pirate ship car and we went speeding down a hill. We hit a giant skull, rocked back and forth, and finally came to a stop. I think we climbed down from the ride with a ladder. I remember walking away from the ride safe and sound, until I tripped on a track, and fell flat on my face. The entire experience was rather traumatic though we did get a free dinner at the magic castle and tickets back to Disney world. We never went back to Disney world by the way.
Hearing the Disney music reminded me of this experience. So I told the barista about my wild ride as a child. I jokingly told her that it was a traumatic experience and I am often triggered by the song “It’s a Small world after all.” After a brief conversation I bought a coffee and sat down to read my Bible. A couple of minutes later what song came over the loud speaker but, “it’s a small world after all.” It truly is a small world after all I thought to myself as I smiled in amusement. Rather unexpectedly the barista came over to my table and compassionately and seriously asked me if I was okay. Apparently, she had taken me seriously when I told her I was triggered by it’s a small world after all. I told her I was fine. Things had worked out okay for me. I don’t really know how close we were to going off the tracks we were suspended on. Apparently, close enough to get free tickets to Disney World. But it was one of those situations where things could have gone more badly than they did. So we were grateful. Even at the time I felt I had received some level of Divine Mercy.
In our lives there are more serious situations that happen. Situations where we are those we care about are in peril and we cry out that most ancient of prayers, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.”
More recently I was reminded of the Lord’s mercy when I went to see my sister, her husband, and my nephew Rowan Reynolds in Richmond, VA. Rowan was born Monday December 17th, 2018 at around 11:30pm. I remember that day because that morning my sister had gotten in a serious car crash, totaling her car, that morning. This was two weeks before Rowan was supposed to be born, which would be right around Christmas. She walked away without a scratch. The front airbag hadn’t even gone off, which was good news, since if it had the impact of the airbag might have damaged my nephew in her womb. They took her into the hospital for observation that day. And by that evening the doctors had decided to induce Caitlin just to be safe. Our Elder board or session was meeting that night. I left session more than a little worried for my unborn nephew. I talked to my brother in law before I went to bed. I didn’t think it would be helpful for me to drive down there and add to the drama and chaos. I lay in bed that night wondering what was happening. It was the longest, and most anxiety filled few hours of my life. What I didn’t know was that at around 11:30pm Rowan’s heart rate became erratic. The doctor’s put my sister under and wheeled her into the operating room to perform an emergency C-section. My brother in law collapsed on the floor, pleading with God, not knowing what was going to happen. Rowan Reynold’s was born a few minutes later, right before midnight, on my sister’s wedding anniversary. I got the news around 1:30am. I went to see him the next day. He was born five pounds six ounces. He now weighs thirteen pounds. Many prayed that ancient prayer kyrie Liason, Christe Liason, Lord have mercy, Christ had mercy. And despite murphy’s law which is what can go wrong will go wrong, coming true that day, things turned out all right. Many of you have seen the photo of me posing with my nephew. I am told that he looks a lot like me by many people including my sister. Clearly we must pray for more mercy from the Lord for little Rowan.
There are cases in our lives when we cry out for mercy, we plead and make a deal with God, and it seems for all intensive purposes that God provides the mercy we ask for, God saves us from sorrow upon sorrow. That seems to be the case in our passage from the book of Philippians today. Paul tells us about two of his fellow coworkers in the Gospel, Timothy and Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus was sent by the Philippians to deliver monetary aid for Paul. Paul describes Epaphroditus as a worker, minister, and fellow soldier in Christ. Apparently he fell ill sometime during his over four thousand mile journey from Philippi to Rome. But he didn’t let this stop him from completing his mission of delivering aid to Paul, the man who had miraculously planted the church at Philippi. We don’t know exactly how but we are told that God was involved in healing Epaphroditus. To quote Paul, “ But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.” God answered Paul’s prayers with Mercy, Ephaphorditus was healed, and Paul was spared from sorrow. Today we see the good news of God’s mercy.
The good news: When we become soldiers of mercy we shall receive mercy from God. How do we become soldiers of mercy?
- By loving mercy
- By being merciful
- By accepting that the Lord doesn’t owe us mercy
First, we become soldiers of mercy by loving mercy. What soldiers fights for is more than just money. They fight for honor, they fight for their nation, they fight for their brother’s beside them. To be a soldier requires a profound motivation and training to overcome obstacles. As earthly soldiers fight because they love their nation, their love for their flag, their love for their brothers and sisters beside them. We as Christians fight because we love mercy. We love showing mercy and we love receiving mercy. Mercy should be our primary motivation as believers, so much so that we should be willing to risk our safety and lives for others. Epaphorditus shows us this by risking his life, traveling thousands of miles, to bring financial aid to Paul while he is in prison. He is a true soldier of mercy. He is a man who fights because he loves mercy. Not only did Epaphorditus give mercy in bringing financial aid to Paul he received Mercy by receiving healing from the Lord when he was at the point of death.
God is clear that we are to love mercy because he loves mercy. One of the most famous passages in all of scripture, especially for those who care about social justice, is Micah 6:8, “ He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” This word for kindness is the Hebrew word Hesed. I believe it is one of the most importance concepts in all of scripture. Yet, it is notoriously difficult to translate. Sometimes it is translated as mercy, other times kindness, other times loving kindness, other times steadfast love. Chances are if you see any of these terms in the Old Testament the word Hesed is being used. Carolyn Custis James in her book The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules boils down Hesed or mercy in this way, “ someone cares and has freely made it their business to look out for you.” ( James, pg 117.) And isn’t that Ephaphroditus? He made it his business to show mercy to Paul. And he risked his life in doing so. And isn’t that our God? He sent his only begotten Son, who was more valuable to God than every person that has ever lived, as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, to look out for us. I think it important that the Bible says we are to love mercy and to do justice. Often I find we do mercy and we love justice. We have to be convinced to be merciful but we love it when someone gets their just deserts, unless of course that someone is us. If we don’t love mercy than the justice we attempt to do will be unjust, the walk we attempt to walk will be full of pride, and the God we walk with will be made in our own image instead us being shaped into the image of Christ. The key is to love mercy. And mercy isn’t a judge who has to be convinced to show mercy. Mercy is a judge who loves mercy and is looking for a reason to show mercy. Mercy is a judge who goes to bat for us.
First, we must love mercy. Second, we must be merciful. Jesus put it best in the beatitudes when he said, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 7:7). Scholars have debated did Jesus really mean it? Because it is really hard to live by the beatitudes, these blessed attitudes, in this life. And certainly there is an aspect of the beatitudes that will be fulfilled when the Kingdom of God comes. But maybe God is challenge us to adapt the beatitudes as values that we care about above all else. Those of you who have served as soldiers in the military just feel differently about the flag than those of us who have not served. When someone burns the flag you feel the burning inside of yourselves. So should we not feel a burning inside of ourselves when we see a lack of mercy, if mercy truly is one of our values?
Finally, we become soldiers of mercy by accepting that the Lord doesn’t owe us anything. Paul is clear that God can do exceedingly abundantly more than anything we can ask, hope for, our imagine. (Ephesians 3:20-21). He prayed for his friend epaphroditus to be healed and he was. He believed he was going to be released from prison in Rome because when he was in Philippi God broke him out of prison with an earthquake but Paul stayed to save the jailer who was about to kill himself (Acts 16:25-40). He believed that God could do anything God pleased because he had seen God move in miraculous ways. But he also believed God doesn’t owe us anything.
I believe on this side of the grave their is a difference between mercy and grace. This is demonstrated in two scriptures. In Mark 10:46-52 we learn of the story of Blind beggar named Bartimaeus. When he heard that Jesus was coming he cried out “Son of David have mercy on me!” The disciples tried to stop him from crying, but he cried out all the louder, “Son of David have mercy on me!” Jesus called Bartimaeus to himself and asked him what Bartimaeus wanted Jesus to do for him. Bartimaeus replied, “ Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus restored his sight. In this interaction what did Bartimeaus mean by mercy? Did he mean to ask the Lord to help him accept his blindness? No he meant to ask the Lord to take away his blindness. And the Lord did. But scripture is clear the Lord shows mercy to whom he shows mercy to (Exodus 33:19, Romans 9:15). God is clear he has his own reasons for what He does and God doesn’t have to explain himself. And we can’t second guess God.
Even though Paul received Mercy from the Lord with Epaphroditus’ healing Paul did not receive mercy from the Lord for his own healing. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul tells us that a thorn was giving to him in his flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass him. Three times he prayed to the Lord for this thorn to be removed. But the Lord replied to Paul, “ My Grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” And perhaps today you cried out for mercy and it hasn’t gone your way. A lot of times in my life that has happened to me too. But he says to us my grace is sufficient for you because my power is made perfect in your weakness. For when we show weak and we show strengths people know that is the power of Christ and not us.
I was reminded of the power of mercy three weeks ago. I was feeling pretty down one Sunday after worship I I’ve been struggling a lot in my life of late. I was basically throwing a pity party for myself and I was sad that no one showed up for my pity party. Even ministers get down. We have to make our communities a safe place to express and to bring to light negative emotions. Because nothing is healed unless it is brought to light. And there have been many times I have suffered in silence and received no sign, no message from God. But this Sunday out of the blue my sister called me. She called me to thank me. My sister has suffered from chronic pain and depression for at least ten years. She called me to thank me for suffering with her and sticking with her.She called me to thank me that her son looked like me, which I am not sure that is something she should be thankful for.
She asked me if I remembered a time in college I came to visit her? I didn’t even remember that specific visit. But she told me that I saved her life that night. Because she was thinking about hurting herself. And that visit stopped her from hurting herself. I didn’t even know that I was showing mercy. And in that moment I received mercy. And I didn’t have much of a plan. And I still don’t. She and I have said so many unkind and horrible things to each other in our suffering. But I see that God’s mercies are new every morning and his grace is sufficient for us.
We want that scripture Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy to be like a coin machine. We want to put in our mercy points and receive mercy from God. That’s not how it works. Instead it was the ancient principle that you reap what you sow. A seed of mercy can bear the fruit of mercy. It requires working year round to reap a harvest. You can control the weather. But in due time we shall reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9). Maybe like Moses we won’t see the full harvest, but we will reap a harvest for our children, and our grandchildren, if we don’t give up.
So the question today is what kind of soldiers are we going to be? It is great to be Sons and daughters of God, to experience the joy of our salvation, but sometimes that isn’t going to happen. That is when we have to become soldiers. And the question is what kind of soldiers are we going to be? Are we going to be soldiers of fortune in it for ourselves? Or are we going to love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with our God? Are we going to be soldiers of mercy?
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.