Christ Centered Resources

Sept. 11th: No mercy ... Lord have mercy.

Rev. Jim Love

Jeremiah 4:22-28, Jeremiah 4:11-12, 1 Timothy 1:12-17, Luke 15:1-10
University Hill United Church : Sun, September 16, 2001
"The world is not what it was 24 hours ago" "It couldn't be real" "It looks something like out of a movie" "Unbelievable, unbearable, outrageous." "We wake up and the world is not the same for North Americans." All those faces, people like us; most are strangers but some we know; some of your friends gone. Jesus wept. And live on TV, the plane comes in and people are there and a second later flames, and destruction, they are dust and ashes. Firm structures shake from the weight and collapse into a billowing cloud so thick, those closest, who lived, said it was so dark we thought we must be buried, but it was the ash! Images of the ash ... the taste of harsh and persistent ash. Some of you bear the marks of outward and inward grief. And for many people the shock and grief has given way to anger. And I'm not going to say we should not be angry, that would only make us more furious. There are times to grieve and there are times to be angry and times to be frightened. In this part of the world, collectively we are not use to violence striking so close to home. We are not use to everyday fears of vulnerability and helplessness. We don't send our loved one's out into the world, as most of the world does, wondering whether they will be coming home. And now, what do we tell our children? We are not as experienced as the rest of the human race where such events on a smaller scale are the normal course of life. And as this new reality sinks in for us westerners, we as a people and as persons feel vulnerable, helpless, and frightened. We seek answers, pouring over the papers and listening to various points of view; trying to untangle the complexities of the history that led to such a violation of human life. Feelings of fear and anger arise, even rage, murderous rage. What happened on Tuesday was wrong. We hear Christian communities saying it was wrong. We hear Muslims saying it was wrong. Just as the Crusades were a violation of Christian faith, people of faith know that this is a violation of Islam. Why the innocent suffer is a great mystery to us, but we know that such violence goes against what God desires for humanity. Amid this sea of grief and anger, we gather in this little ship of a church to share deep feelings, to receive comfort and for a breath of Good News from God. But as we listen for God in today's text, I wonder about your circles of friends? What are they saying? A lot being said, "AMEN?" A lot is being said, "Some of it popular, and some of it unpopular." And there is a lot of grief still to be expressed." There are some of you that want to express your views but fear the clouds of anger that have arisen" But, I suspect, like me, many of you struggle to know what to say at all. AMEN? And into this great collective discussion, enters today's texts. What do we hear this Lenten Sunday amid the Season after Pentecost? Last week I wondered about Jeremiah's grief seeming out of place in this season, but now we understand our grief stricken Jeremiah . reluctant prophet charged with telling his people that the attacks on them were the fruit of their own corruption, their own violence, their injustice, and their rejection of God's ways. The violence Jeremiah grieves is not just the result of one isolated turning from God's peace and justice, but years of it. Just as the current violence is not of the kind that is caused by some isolated injustice, but rather from the accumulation of the multifaceted and entangled unrighteousness, of ALL THE NATIONS, especially those involved directly or indirectly in the middle east over many years. And we grieve for those who pay the price of our collective turning from the life-giving ways of God. We understand better why Jeremiah's grieves the people's suffering ... or is it God grieving about the tragedy of the resulting Exile? You've heard about the tragedy of the Exile. Israel destroyed, the temple turned to rubble, a great city in flames, the best and the brightest either executed or sent into exile. A world utterly turned upside down ... place of grief and rage . even Jeremiah rails at God for allowing the wicked to prosper; to Jeremiah it appears as if the world itself is coming to an end. Amid his despair God says, "I will not make a full end." And as the earth morns .... Even amid what looks like the end, Good News, God's mercy is already at work. What about the Gospel of Luke? We hear that the religious leaders complain against Jesus because he eats with sinners. "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." They can not believe that God's mercy can extend to tax collectors; you know who they are, the one's who sold out, who use violence to bully people into paying their taxes to the Roman Empire ... plus a bit more for themselves. To the dirty fingers of state power Jesus will offer mercy; to these tax collectors and to all sorts of sinners. But, we wonder, "so how does this text speak to the events of this week? We wonder until we get to the parables of searching. More than ever, we know about searching. About leaving the 99 sheep to look for that lost one. Rejoicing in finding just one person alive, and when one is found people don 't ask who are they, whether executive or janitor or rich or poor, out of the ashes comes life and we rejoice. Such is the response of heaven when one who is found by God's mercy and brought home. But there is something strange about this searching. Did you notice that the economics don't seem to fit the situation? A woman searches earnestly for a lost coin, worth what? A days wage. She has ten but loses one, and goes to great lengths to search for it. She lights a lamp, sweeps the house, gets down in the dirt to look for a single coin; then throws a celebration for the lost coin. This is the economics of the kingdom? God spares no expense in searching for those who are lost . perhaps now we understand this for who would say, "It's too expensive to recover the lost, no matter who they are." But then this is not a rescue mission after a disaster or attack . the coins God searches for are tarnished. These ones whom Christ eats with are people caught up in the violence of the world. The ones who can no longer stand behind claims of their essential goodness. Do you remember, the leaders grumble that he would eat with sinners . that he would extend God's mercy to even the worst of sinners. But Christ did just that. This is why Timothy is willing to tell the truth about Paul. The church knows the awful truth about him . that he was a man of violence . the church knows the truth that God's searching and compassion even extends to this persecutor . this . terrorist against Christians. You know the story. Paul was on his assigned mission to destroy peaceful Christians. And while on the road to Damascus, the risen Christ appeared to him, poured God's love and mercy over him . blinded him and turned his world on its head . then sent him to a frightened Ananias, "Who upon seeing Paul called him brother saying, "The Lord Jesus who appeared to you on your way here has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And then, Paul said, "It was as if scales fell from my eyes." Paul becomes an agent of God's mercy and compassion . with new eyes .... a whole new person through the mercy of God. Mercy . No Mercy. God's heart must be breaking in seeing people of God cry, "No mercy"; in seeing such death and destruction last Tuesday in the US; and all the merciless destruction we humans seem so quick to inflict upon each other. Am I wrong in saying that mercy seems in short supply these days. No mercy for those in the towers. No mercy for the terrorists. "No mercy" seems humanities response to injustice and evil. I was struck most by Yasar Arafat. Did you see Yasar Arafat's face last week. He's afraid . friend or foe he's afraid of what is gathering as a result of last Tuesday. He even poured out his blood in a symbolic act of compassion for those Americans who died. Why? Maybe it is because he realizes what decades of low level warfare has done to his people and to his enemies people . and such a future for all of humanity is no future. And yet we hear the harsh pitch of war fevered voices in vows of "broad and sustained retaliation without mercy." A great cloud of ash and dust is rising before us as leaders call us to "stoke our anger and hatred." And the scape-goating has begun; of Americans for their foreign policy; of those who look like the perpetrators of this ungodly act, of countries that may or may not harbor terrorists. Attempts to evade the complexities of the widespread complicity. And we know anger is being stoked, just ask Canadians who are Arab or Muslim ... or just wear a turban. A friend phoned a mosque a few days ago saying that she could imagine how vulnerable the community was feeling and that she wanted to personally reach out a hand of concern and support. She told him that she would be reminding her congregation on Sunday that we are not to generalize to a whole community what may be the actions of a few within it, and may not. The man began to pour out his feelings, and told me that they have had so many hate calls, that he would like her to call back and say what she had said onto the voice mail so that others could hear it. He felt it would really encourage people. Why did she do it? Because she remember the words of Paul in Romans 12 "Do not overcome evil with evil, but overcome evil with good. Paul bears witness to the good that overcame his evil. More than ever we need the Risen Christ who tells us, "Be not afraid." Remember that the cross, the place that looks like despair is really the place where we discover that the God we worship is not a God who will wipe the earth clean of evil by pummeling it into submission, but instead is a God who stretches out his arms and dies for all the world. This Divine mercy bears witness against the injustice of what happened last Tuesday; that injustice and all the injustices that humanity inflicts on each other. Believe in the Risen Christ, who's hands and feet still bear the marks of his suffering, for he is the one who pours out the Holy Spirit so that we as a people might know how to proceed in the days ahead.