The list of words above is the way my Bible study at the Pocono Retreat began. (This study came from Nick Diliberto's Youth Group Lesson on Mercy) In groups of 2 or 3 they needed to come up with a definition for each word that the judges thought was the best. They received bonus points if they actually defined the word, but the creativity was my favorite part. After a few questions about how we determine success and how we think God determine's success, we read Micah 6:8. "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." We talked about how we are called to act in the world around us...and then back in those small groups, they defined the word mercy. One group said it was that game where you bend your partner's hands back until they say mercy...it caused the adults in the room to shudder. But most of them came up with a working definition that had to do with acting kind or gentle or with compassion when in a position to do the opposite. Merriam-webster.com offers this as part of the definition of mercy - a: compassion or forbearance (see forbearance 1) shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one's power; The key that we discussed in the definition was that mercy is shown when a person in power or with power or with privilege choses to show compassion when they have the opportunity to use his or her power to their own advantage. We watched the end of the Veggie Tales Movie, Jonah. The scene when Jonah, played by Archibald Asparagus is flailing on the ground....ranting and raving about how upset he is that God has not rained down brimstone on the people of Nineveh. But Jonah doesn't get it. He never gets it. Even though God extended mercy to Jonah, gave him a second chance, Jonah doesn't think the Ninevites deserve a second chance. Jonah proclaims the word of the Lord, but has a hard time realizing how that word transforms, changes and impacts lives, his own included. Mercy is tough stuff. Thank God that God's mercy is endless. When we mess up (yes, there are consequences) but God gives us second, third and millionth chances. God whose power is infinite, shows compassion and mercy. We are more like Jonah than we realize. It's so hard for us to live out of God's grace and mercy modeling that for others. As soon as we get a glimpse of that power or authority or control, we hesitate to give it up. It's easier to use that power to maintain power or the control that we think we have rather than show mercy and compassion to others. This isn't a new problem...humankind has been in a constant struggle when it comes to power, who has it and how you act with it. Many of us have heard the story of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10:25-37. The lead in to the familiar part of the parable is that a lawyer is testing Jesus about eternal life. The lawyer knows the command to 'love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ But the lawyer wonders aloud, "Who is my neighbor?" The parable reveals that the one who is the neighbor is the one who shows mercy. The one who, when in a situation to help or hinder the situation, has decided to help. This individual choses to take a situation and make a difference in a positive way, in a way that will dramatically change the life of another. In this story, the neighbor, the one who showed mercy, was the one least likely. This story reminds us that loving our neighbor means caring for those who are different than we are. We are called to show mercy to God's children who have backgrounds, ethnicities, beliefs - religious and political, genders, sexual orientation and skin colors that may not be our own. That, my friends, is not easy, but it is the call of the gospel, to live lives out of God's love, grace and mercy.
When have you received mercy?
How did that moment make you feel?
When have you been in a position of power or control?
Have you used that position to extend mercy? How has that transformed you?
God's mercy is infinite.
We are called to live out humble lives of service and love, extending mercy and compassion when we could hurt or harm others. Will you have the opportunity to do that today? Tomorrow? Good and gracious God, thank you for loving us. Thank you for creating us in your image and for continually calling us to live lives that model your compassion and mercy. We give you thanks for offering us forgiveness when we mess up or miss opportunities to serve and care for others. Help us to see all humanity as our neighbor. Help us to build relationships, model humility and show mercy. In Jesus' name, amen.