Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Got Mercy? Do Tell.

1 Timothy 1:12-17
It’s now two or three generations after Jesus has been resurrected and ascended.  The apostles are gone, Paul is gone, and the expectation that Jesus was going to come again within their lifetime was beginning to waver if not vanish altogether.  So somehow the remaining faithful had to figure out how to move on, and keep the faith alive and organize their community of faith.  This was the context in which today’s scripture was written.

What scholar’s call the “Pastoral Letters”, 1&2 Timothy and Titus, probably were written in the style of Paul but not by Paul himself.  They read much like a leadership manual for new churches of the day.  What to do, who’s to do it, what should be worn or not worn, and how to worship.  We could compare it to the first original constitution and by-laws that were written by Orange’s founding members. 

Paul, after his conversion on the road to Damascus, was a devout follower of Christ who journeyed throughout the Roman Empire telling his story about the mercy of God who picked him up out of the bowels of bad living and the tenements of torment and turned his heart and life around.  One of the places we know that Paul planted a church in his mission field was in Ephesus.  Here we find a new pastor, Timothy, hard at work.

The epistle begins with Paul’s greeting and a strong warning about false teachers who have deviated from the divine message of ‘love from a pure heart’ (1:5).  Then Paul shows great gratitude for the mercy that he has received, I like particularly Eugene Peterson’s telling from “The Message” for 1 Timothy….

 I'm so grateful to Christ Jesus for making me adequate to do this work. He went out on a limb, you know, in trusting me with this ministry. The only credentials I brought to it were invective and witch hunts and arrogance. But I was treated mercifully because I didn't know what I was doing—didn't know Who I was doing it against! Grace mixed with faith and love poured over me and into me. And all because of Jesus.

 Here's a word you can take to heart and depend on: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. I'm proof—Public Sinner Number One—of someone who could never have made it apart from sheer mercy. And now he shows me off—evidence of his endless patience—to those who are right on the edge of trusting him forever.

Deep honor and bright glory to the King of All Time, One God, Immortal, Invisible ever and always. Oh, yes!

Effusive, overenthusiastic, hyperbolic Paul.  One of the greatest of evangelists, he was granted mercy and couldn’t keep quiet about it.  I think that’s the way in which true mercy works, as one scholar puts it, “Mercy is a verb of God’s activity that is conjugated in Paul’s own experience.”  Paul’s confession of faith is what motivates the early church to get up and moving.  His mercy is our verb.  If God can grant mercy to someone like Paul, ‘public enemy number one’, then God can grant mercy to anyone, even me and you.  It calls us to action.
Have you ever been granted mercy?  Do Tell!  That’s what Paul does.  He talks about that defining moment in his life the rest of his life to whomever he meets.  He becomes God’s number one witness of the day.  Paul experiences profound salvation when God’s mercy is extended, which is why this evangelist speaks out.

We know that the mercy of God extends way beyond our own comprehension. It’s there when you need it most, but deserve it the least.  It’s those kind and compassionate acts, which are endowed with forgiveness all of which - or not deserved.  You’re on death row walking that lonely route to the executioner’s chamber and the phone rings from the governor’s office, commuting your sentence.  That’s mercy!  You ignored the signs on the road and entered an area of sinkholes.  Now you are up to your neck in quicksand slowly being pulled down.  By some mysterious luck (luck as some would call it) a passerby sees you and throws a rope to you.  That’s mercy!  You’ve tried over and over again to kick an invasive habit and one day, by the grace of God solely you do.  That’s God’s divine mercy!

Mercy comes in all sorts of packages from grand gestures of unmerited forgiveness to those smaller moments in life when you know that somehow, someway you’ve been given a second chance.  When you are on your last thread of hope, your life begins to change.  You can see a pin dot of light shining in the darkness and you can feel the air that begins to permeate your stagnate existence.  That’s mercy!  And we’ve all been there.

Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke, tells us parables of mercy over and over again.  If you have one hundred sheep and one gets lost, won’t you go out to find the poor sheep that has lost his way?  Of course you would.  If you had ten very valuable coins and one of them gets lost in a crack in the floor, wouldn’t you sweep and vacuum until you find it?  Of course you would.  When you’ve lost your way to drunkenness or gambling or any sort of indecent living, doesn’t God come out looking for you?  Of course God does.  When you just feel as if you’ve lost your faith in our common lot or worse yet, in God, don’t you think that God comes to us in so many ways both seen and unseen, heard and unheard?  OF COURSE God does.  And that’s mercy!

Where have you experienced God’s mercy in your life? When were you on your metaphorical or maybe literal ‘way out’ but were picked up and granted mercy?  I’m sure you have, at least one time in your life, been granted God’s ultimate mercy and grace.   I have!  We’re in this humanity thing together.  It’s being saved and revived from the last shred of strength that we have, and then been given a fresh start to get things right.  But it can’t stop there after you’ve said a polite ‘Thank you God’.

Do you have a story to tell?  A story where God reached into your life and saved you?  I challenge to tell one person this week.  You don’t have to use eloquent words,  they just need to be sincere and from the heart.  One of the most powerful stories of redemption was from a man I met in Wooster Square sitting on a park bench.  A homeless man who just could not help but tell me his story.  And it was powerful, from the heart.  He had been saved, granted God’s mercy and lived to tell other’s all about God’s great act.  That’s what mercy does.

The call of the Gospel is for us to seek, understand, and accept God’s mercy and then to tell others, like Paul, like Lamott, like the shepherd who finds his lost sheep and calls together his friends to party, like the woman finding her lost coin, we are to tell others.  It is our testimony and witness that perpetuates our Christian faith.  It is our ancient tradition that must not get lost.  In the weeks to come we will hear personal testimony and witness as we begin ‘Pay it Forward’ as part of our Season of Generosity.  Listen carefully, be inspired and then tell your story.

That’s what we do in our community of faith.  Once you’ve known mercy and grace, and you will, it’s hard to keep silent.  Got Mercy?  Do Tell!

Amen, may it be so!

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