Sunday, April 27, 2014

"Living Hope" - April 27, 2014

I Peter 1:3-9

            Passages like this one from I Peter that speak about heaven have been misused by Christianity’s critics for a long time.  I’m thinking especially of those who declare that the Christian faith is a smokescreen for keeping oppressed people quiet by promising a reward in the world to come.  In fact, the expression “pie in the sky” comes from a song by Joe Hill that parodies the gospel tune

“In the sweet bye-and-bye
we will meet on that beautiful shore.”

Joe Hill’s song is called “The Preacher and the Slave”, and you can guess which one of them is speaking in the chorus when it says,

“You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.”

Another heavyweight, though one without a sense of tune or rhythm, started but didn’t finish writing a little piece called A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.  It had a catchy little phrase that goes,

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.  It is the opium of the people.”

The writer of that one was Karl Marx.

            What I find interesting is that I don’t have a problem with at least the first two parts of that, and I don’t think that the writer of I Peter would, either.  Religion may very well be the heart of a heartless world.  I look at places where there has been an effort to eradicate religion, sometimes in the name of Karl Marx’s ideas, and “heartless” is a kind word for the world that produces. 

I know a woman who survived the “killing fields” of Cambodia, when the Khmer Rouge brutalized their own people in ways that were totally inhuman.  One story she told me was about how they outlawed salt.  To possess it was a sign of ties to the outside world and brought you under suspicion of treason.  Suspicion alone was enough to have someone killed.  Without some salt, though, especially in the tropics, people also die.  Her family had one jar of salt, which they had to keep buried, and from time to time they would be given a small pinch.  It was never put on food because there was little or no food to put it onto.  In a situation like that, how would someone hear Jesus’ words telling people that they are “the salt of the earth”?  Wouldn’t that tell them that, far from being the expendable units that the government said they were, they were something precious and worthy of protection?  They are themselves God’s treasure,

“who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” [I Peter 3:5-7]  

            As to being the “soul of a soulless world”, again I would say, “Yes.  That is exactly what religion often is.  And what, exactly, is wrong with that?”  Great art, great music, incredible architecture have been inspired by religion.  Yes, there is a problem when those things are created at the expense of the poor.  I agree that there is something obscene about a cathedral covered in gold and silver that sits in the middle of a slum.  On the other hand, human beings have souls that need beauty the way that their bodies need food.  Yes, God provides that for us in a dandelion that pushes up between the cracks of a sidewalk or the sound of rain in the leaves.  He also provides it in the sense of color that comes alive when the sunlight passes through stained glass or the excitement expressed by a tambourine, whether it’s the one that Miriam played by the Red Sea where she led the women of Israel in a dance to celebrate their freedom [Exodus 15:20] or one that is played in the fourth pew from the front on the right at a Pentecostal church in Tennessee.

            When Marx calls religion “the opium of the people” or “the opiate of the masses”, however, he implies that it is merely (and I emphasize that word “merely”) a means of escaping harsh realities.  Frankly, that’s a little condescending.  Just because people find comfort in their faith does not mean it’s an escape.  In fact, it often is a means of confronting and bearing up under conditions that cannot be changed.  To give him his due, Marx had some compassion for the workers of his day who lived and worked in demeaning and grinding poverty without much real chance of escape, no matter how hard or how long they worked.  What he missed is that God is the guarantor of all that is good.  Take away what you will from people now, God will restore it one way or another, and there are some things that you will never be able to take from them, because they are in God’s own care.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith…” [I Peter 3:3-5]

One of the things we see in the resurrection is exactly the promise that there are things that cannot be taken away.  An innocent man is innocent, even if Pilate declares him guilty.  Someone who dies with words of forgiveness on his lips is someone whose holiness has been untouched by the cruelty to which he has been exposed.  The highest and most Christlike traits in anyone are honored, too, by God.  It doesn’t matter what anyone else says, because in the end our most important relationship is not with any human being, no matter how rightly and how deeply we love them or are loved by them, but with God as revealed to us in Jesus, crucified and risen.

“Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  [I Peter 3:8-9]



Saturday, April 19, 2014

"What Do You Expect?" - April 20, 2014 (Easter)

Matthew 28:1-10


            The greater somebody’s hopes, the greater the possibility of disappointment.

            Jesus’ disciples, among them Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary”, had heard Jesus proclaim, over and over again,

“The kingdom of heaven is at hand!” [Matthew 4: 17]. 

They had heard Jesus teach about that kingdom and how God would make a place in it for

“the poor in spirit,… those who mourn, …the meek, …those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, …the merciful, …the pure in heart, …the peacemakers, …[and] those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” [Matthew 5:3-10] 

They had heard him talk of an amazing future, and how  

“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.” [Matthew 25:31]

They had heard all of that, and had believed with their whole hearts. 

            Of course, the greater somebody’s hopes, the greater the possibility of disappointment.

Jesus’ followers had plenty to get their hopes up.  As he went around doing miracles: feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish, restoring vision to the blind, making the lame walk again, even raising the dead, surely that confirmed their faith in him.  As he confronted the wrongs that are always part of human life: the political compromises that their people’s leaders had made with the occupying Romans, the greed of those who had power over the poor, the abuse of religion by spiritual leaders, the hope sprang up in his followers of a renewed world, and they committed themselves to being part of that.  They left behind their own participation in the world’s evils, and took a chance on doing good even when the people around them did not. 

“You are the salt of the earth,” he told them.  “You are the light of the world.” [Matthew 5:13, 14] 

They heard that and they believed him, and they became better people.

Then the authorities struck back, because not everyone believed.  They arrested him, handed him over to the Romans, and after torture he was nailed to a piece of wood and left to die.  That part was done publicly, to make him an example.  His enemies watched it happen, and so did at least some of his friends. 

“There were also many women there, looking on from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him; among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.” [Matthew 27:55-56] 

Normally, his body would have been left there to rot, but a sympathizer who had some connections went to the Roman governor and got permission to bury him, which he did, again with the women looking on. [Matthew 27:57-61]

            The greater somebody’s hopes, the greater the possibility of disappointment.

            Maybe they shouldn’t have expected so much.  Maybe they shouldn’t have expected anything at all.  Maybe they should, as good and faithful women, have listened to the words of scripture,

“Moreover I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness, wickedness was there as well. I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for he has appointed a time for every matter, and for every work. I said in my heart with regard to human beings that God is testing them to show that they are but animals. For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.” [Ecclesiastes 3:16-20] 

            Maybe it’s best not to expect too much.  The best, maybe, that anyone can do is learn to laugh bitterly at the human condition.  I don’t know if you know that poem called “The Desiderata” that begins,

“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”[1]

There’s a comedy troupe called “The Firesign Theater” that does a parody of that.  They call it “The Deteriorata”.

“Go placidly amid the noise and waste,
And remember what comfort there may be in owning a piece thereof.
Avoid quiet and passive persons, unless you are in need of sleep.
Rotate your tires.
Speak glowingly of those greater than yourself,
And heed well their advice, even though they be turkeys.
Consider that two wrongs never make a right, but that three do.
Wherever possible, put people on hold.
\Be comforted that in the face of all aridity and disillusionment,
and despite the changing fortunes of time,
There is always a big future in computer maintenance.

You are a fluke of the universe.
You have no right to be here.
And whether or not you can hear it,
The universe is laughing behind your back.”[2]

Maybe that was how the women, and all the disciples, should have looked at things.  Then there would not have been the ultimate disappointment of Jesus’ crucifixion.  It would still have happened, only they would have been ready.

            But then…

            But then came the odd thing.  They went to the tomb, thinking just to complete the burial decently, since it had had to be done in a hurry, and when they got there…

            When they got there, they found that they had not been wrong to hope.

            When they got there, they found that they had not been wrong to trust.

            When they got there, they found that they had not been wrong to live in a new way.

            When they got there, they found that there was more to it all, and that there was more to come, and that they shouldn’t dwell on death any longer.  The tomb was empty, except for (of all things) an angel, who said,

“He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” [Matthew 28:7]

The greater your disappointment, the greater your rejoicing when it gets turned around.  They began running to tell the others, when Jesus himself appeared and greeted them, and with joy sent them on to gather everyone together and tell them the same thing.

“Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”[Matthew 28:10]

They were so giddy that if they had had Dunkin’ Donuts in those days, someone would have said, “Take their DDPerks cards away!  No more caffeine for them!”  The greater your disillusionment, the deeper your joy when you find out that what you had was not an illusion, but a vision, and a vision of what God says can and will be.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of
heaven. 
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they
will be filled. 
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of
God. 
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 5:3-10]

And that is just the start.



[1] Max Ehrmann, “Desiderata”. 
[2] Christopher Guest, “Deteriorata”.  Full text is found at http://www.songtexte.com/songtext/national-lampoon/deteriorata-6be362de.html .

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Maundy Thursday - April 17, 2014

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

               Someone I know once pointed out that there’s a built-in conflict when friends stay with one another.  It’s the duty of the host or hostess to do everything they can to make the guest comfortable.  It’s the duty of the guest to make sure that they don’t put their hosts out too much. That's sort of what's happening between Jesus and Peter in this section of  John's gospel.

And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”
                                                                    [John 13:2-8]

Admittedly, Jesus was trying to demonstrate the spirit of humble servanthood to his disciples, because this sort of work was considered far from honorable, far beneath a great teacher or prophet.  There's more to it, though, if you look at things from Peter’s perspective.  It isn’t just a matter of Jesus’ willingness to serve.  It's also about our openness to receiving what Jesus offers us.

               Human beings both desire and resist love.  We like to think that when we find it, we value it above all else, but when push comes to shove, we have our limits.  In 1981, Hall and Oates had a hit song that was painfully honest.

“Yeah, I I-I, I’ll do anything
That you want me to do.
Yeah, I, I-I, I’ll do almost anything
That you want me to, ooh,
Yeah.

But I can’t go for that.
(No.)
No can do.
I can’t go for that, nooo.
(No.)
No can do.
I can’t go for that,
Can’t go for that,
Can’t go for that,
Can’t go for that.”

Now, I’m not putting Hall and Oates on the same level as the apostle John, but we do treat God with the same mix of wholeheartedness and distance.

               Peter’s first response to Jesus’ offer is to hold him at arm’s length.  It isn’t that he doesn’t understand what Jesus was doing, but that he understood it too well.  He cared for and honored Jesus, and did not want to presume on his deep friendship.  Jesus wanted to show his care, but Peter didn’t want him to have to do that.  It almost seems like he was embarrassed. 

“Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” [John 13:7]

Jesus was pushing the limits, and Peter would have none of it.

               God’s love in Christ goes well beyond the formalities, though, and maybe that’s what Peter found threatening but that Jesus insisted on.

"Peter said to him, 'You will never wash my feet.' Jesus answered, 'Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.'” [John 13:8]

There’s a challenge in that.  Can Peter – can any of us – let ourselves be loved by God so completely that we are loved from head to foot, inside and out?  Do we believe, and rejoice to know, that he loves even the ugly, difficult, parts of us?  Do we believe that he takes us, just as we are?  I cannot answer that for you.  Only you can answer for yourself.

               This I can tell you, though, Jesus loves us totally, with a love that transforms the bad part.  When Peter gets it, that Jesus is willing to wash his stinky, dirty feet, in fact that Jesus' love is an all-or-nothing sort of love, his response is to go for "all".

               It was a good thing he did, because his weak side would be on display that very night, when he followed Jesus after his arrest and waited in the courtyard of the house where he was being tried.  Mind you, Peter had gone further with Jesus than most.  But when he was asked if he knew him, three times, he said, “No.”  He had boasted at one point, at least as Matthew tells it,

“Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” [Matthew 26:33]

Others would show courage that he only thought he had.  As for Peter, when he realized his boasting had been empty, it broke him.  Peter, the Rock, wasn't so solid after all.

               But Jesus loved him, loves us all, to the end, even his enemies.  That is the kind of love that he offers.  After his resurrection, the first words that Jesus spoke to Peter was a question that would re-establish the connection between them:

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” [John 21:16]

He could ask that of someone who had said he didn’t have anything to do with him.  It had hurt, but it did not destroy, the tie between them.  He’s like that.

               On this night when we remember what Jesus knew would be his last meal, we remember that the people he chose to share it with were people like Peter, and even Judas.  The people he continues to share this holy meal with are people like us, who probably are not all that different from them.  The love that he offered then is the love that he offers now; the forgiveness of sin, the same; the call for singleness of heart, the same; the grace and care just as unfailing now as then.  

“'Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.' …
'Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!'” 

                                                                    [John 13:8-9]

Saturday, April 12, 2014

"Into the Depths" - April 13, 2014

Psalm 130

Palm Sunday


Drowning is a terrible way to die.  Somebody who almost drowned in a swimming pool as a child describes his memory of that day.

“Scratching desperately at the tiled side of the pool, I watched tranquil shafts of sunlight waver in the water. I tried to cram my stubby fingertips into the grout of the pool's tile, trying--and failing--to find some sort of handhold. Alone and sinking downward, a shrill series of screams left my young mouth--but they were lost as soon as they were uttered, transformed into mute bubbles. An eternity later, the heavy water darkened around me. My limbs grew weary from frantic windmilling; my lungs ached; my eyes closed, surrendering.”[1]
The moment when someone is going under is a moment of total fear, when they cry out with all that they have.  Psalm 130 is about just such a moment.

            The people of Israel, time and time again, faced physical danger of being annihilated.  The Assyrians and Babylonians overran the country at different times, enslaving those whom they did not slaughter.  In exile, the book of Esther describes, how those who survived and even came to prominence in their new lands would sometimes face hatred and persecution and mass murder.  Some commentators suggest that Psalm 130 might have been written as the lament of the exiles who lived both with that danger and the thought that maybe they had done something to bring it on themselves. 

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my
supplications!
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.”
                                                            [Psalm 130:1-4]

It is the prayer of someone who is reaching out, whatever circumstance they might be in, to the Lord and asking for the one thing that someone who is drowning needs above all else.  That man who recalled almost drowning as a child said, “As I choked and sputtered with the sting of chlorine, a hand reached down into the shadowy depths and yanked me upward to the bright air.”  He survived because and only because of that hand reaching down into the water, the lethal water, and lifting him up into life.

In 1872, the German government forced the closing of all religious schools, both Protestant and Catholic.  As a result, in 1873 five nuns were aboard the S.S. Deutschland, headed for America, when the ship went down in a storm in the English Channel, drowning around 200 people.  The priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins described it.

                                “Into the snows she sweeps,
                                         Hurling the haven behind,
                                    The Deutschland, on Sunday; and so the sky keeps,
                                         For the infinite air is unkind,
                        And the sea flint-flake, black-backed in the regular blow,
                        Sitting Eastnortheast, in cursed quarter, the wind;
                                    Wiry and white-fiery and whirlwind-swivell├Ęd snow
                        Spins to the widow-making unchilding unfathering deeps.”[2]

Hopkins compares himself that evening, sitting calmly at home, not even realizing what was happening out in the night.

                        “Away in the loveable west,
                                    On a pastoral forehead of Wales,
                              I was under a roof here, I was at rest,
                                    And they the prey of the gales;
                        She to the black-about air, to the breaker, the thickly
                        Falling flakes, to the throng that catches and quails
                             Was calling ‘O Christ, Christ, come quickly’:
                        The cross to her she calls Christ to her, christens her wild-worst Best.”[3]
           
She, at the moment of death, called out for the One who can reach down into death and draw her up into life.

            That is the irony of Palm Sunday.  People thought that Jesus, riding into Jerusalem, was going to declare himself King and raise himself up onto a throne when, in fact, he was riding to his death, going into the very deepest depth that human beings face, to become the hand of God that saves us from the depths; because God has heard, and God hears, the cries of his people and with an outstretched arm and a mighty hand reaches out to save them.

            There are so many depths that we face before we reach that point of death.  There are the depths of a child’s loss of a pet, and the depths faced by a farmer when the rains fail.  There are the depths faced by parents who lose a child or the people who are forced from their homes by war.  There are the depths faced by a family that watches its home burn down or by the business owner who (we even use the language of drowning) goes under.  Finally, though, for everyone, there is the loss of life itself and even when someone who has led a long and satisfying life knows that it is just time to go and that they go to a better place, there is still that sadness.

            Because, however, Jesus did not ride into Jerusalem to  elevate himself, but rather to enter fully into human suffering and even death in a terrible and gruesome form, it means that there would be nowhere that God would be a stranger.  That’s why it matters that we insist that Jesus was actually God, not just God’s representative. 

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the
morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.”
[Psalm 130:5-8]
Jesus, entering Jerusalem that day, was God diving into the depths from which we call to him, to reach us through the storm and the waves, to lift us, in the end, to the only true safety anyone can ever know, to a life that, like his, is without end.  Isaiah spoke for God, and said,

“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
 [Isaiah 43:1-3] 
Jesus made that a full reality, at a terrible price for him, but a priceless gift for us.



[1] Erik Henriksen, “How to Drown Your Child” in the Portland Mercury, July 15, 2004.  http://www.portlandmercury.com/portland/true-stories-of-near-drowning/Content?oid=31724

[2] Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The Wreck of the Deutschland”, l. 97-104.
[3] Ibid., l. 185-192.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

"Spiritual Gifts: Mercy" - April 6. 2014

Psalm 51
“Spiritual Gifts: Mercy”
April 6, 2014

            Let me tell you a story about a woman we’ll call, for the sake of the telling, “Alice”.  Well, it’s partly about Alice and partly about a friend of mine who told me this story over toasted sticky buns at a diner in Ohio several years ago now.  It’s about how Alice introduced her to the spiritual gift that we call “mercy”.

            Alice liked to talk.  Now, there is talking and there is talking.  I like to talk, too.  I like to talk too much.  I confess that sin here this morning.  Alice, however, talked without ever listening much to anyone else or even paying much attention to whatever the topic of conversation was when she joined it.  She would enter a group of people talking together like a hijacker bursting into the cockpit of a plane and declare where the discussion was to go, and pilot it herself until it went wherever she steered it. 

            Alice also liked the telephone.  She could and would call my friend and as soon as she answered would just launch into whatever was on her mind and run with it until she lost steam, which could be an hour or more.  Then, if she took a breath, it would take another who-knows-how-long to politely end the call.  My friend said that one time she told Alice she had to say, “Goodbye,” because she needed to use the bathroom.  (How much more direct could she have been?)  Alice said it was okay; she didn’t mind holding.

She began to screen her calls.  This was back in the day when we used answering machines with tapes, and Alice would call her and leave messages that would consume the entire tape.  Eventually she reset the machine so that it allowed for shorter and shorter messages, and this woman would call back over and over and over, getting more frustrated each time.  The first message would start, “This is Alice.”  The second message would begin, “As I was saying.”  The third message would start, “I think I got cut off.”  The fourth message went to, “This is ridiculous!” and the fifth was, “There’s something wrong with your machine!”

It went on for months.  Then one day my friend got a phone call from Alice’s ex-husband, whom she had met once or twice, telling her that Alice was in the hospital.  Her bipolar disorder had gotten out of hand and the dosage on her medicine needed to be adjusted.

Apparently, what she had witnessed was not the annoying behavior of someone who didn’t know when to shut up.  It was the symptom of someone’s brain wrestling with more thoughts than it could handle, trying to get them under control as they sped up over a period of months when she had been unable to sleep or sometimes even to sit still, and it all came pouring out in monologues that went on whether anyone else was listening or not.

As we sat there in the diner that night, she mulled over ways that she could have handled the situation better.  Perhaps gentle honesty would have helped.  Perhaps she could have observed (assuming, of course, that she could get a word in edgewise), “Alice, you seem wound up.”  Perhaps she could have checked in with Alice instead of dodging her, taken charge of the situation.  She had a dozen different thoughts on what she might have done sooner or differently, and they came pouring out of her, not exactly the way that Alice’s thoughts had done, but in a parallel fashion.

Then it hit me that she herself was asking in a round-about way if God would pardon her for being less than fully compassionate.  She knew what Jesus had said on the subject:

 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”
[Matthew 5:7]

Yet only someone who has that gift can sense when it is not used well, and the Lord was working in her, cultivating her soul, showing her how to take her understanding of the limitations that we have as human beings born into a world where we are tangled up in troubles from the very beginning, not just our own, but other people’s, too.

Mercy: understanding that people are often driven to harmful or destructive actions by the forces that have shaped and formed their lives.  Mercy: setting aside judgment long enough to ask, “Why is this happening?”  Mercy: something we all need, because, like Alice, we all have that within us that compels us in directions we don’t always want to go.  Mercy: a healing grace  offered to us by God, who understands us inside and out, knows the worst about us, and still loves us, and is far more patient than we ever are with one another.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my
transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in
your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless
when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.”
[Psalm 51:1-12]

            Who in your life needs mercy?  Is it someone else, or is it you?  Who can offer the mercy needed?  It begins with God, but it doesn’t stop there.  It’s one of the gifts that holds us together.


“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.”  [Colossians 3:12-16]