Sermon for Quinquagesima Sunday - Luke 18:31-43
Humanity is not, by nature, merciful. Love we can handle, but not mercy. Love gives us the warm fuzzies. Love we can attach all sorts of emotions to. Love being something also, though, that ebbs and flows. Finicky. Fickle. Falling in and out of love. This wave that comes over us of feelings of euphoria. Or love of things. Food. TV shows. I used to love to watch the original Incredible Hulk as a kid. Starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. Loved it. My dad would watch it with me. I didn’t learn until about 5 years ago that he hated it. The actual show, not watching it with me. I watched it once on my own as an adult. I understood why he hated it. Not my favorite anymore. Things we love as a kid, toys, foods, places, people, things. We loved them, but now we’re educated, or more mature. Enlightened. Cultured. Adults. Some of us anyways. Emotions cast aside for these particular things. New things have come along. New people. New stuff. Love them now. Not so much love for those things of yesteryear.
That is one of the dangers as humans. Love is something we understand, but we understand it in our way. Love as a passion. Emotional love. Friendship love and romantic love. These are passions, like a fire, as the Greeks would explain. The passions being these things that well up like a flame fed off of dried wood. The passions not only being love, but also hatred, or anger. Fed in the same way. The same emotional response. So, when we talk about love, whether with our kids or our partners, we see Hallmark channel. The Notebook. Romance. Burning desire, or heart-felt feelings towards another. Deep inside our gut. Those butterflies when we first are in love, right? I still love my wife that way sometimes. She calls to tell me she is on her way home from work, and if I’m home, I’m like a puppy-dog at the window. Or usually I hurry to clean up any mess I made because I don’t want her coming home to that. Hiding my sins as they were. Because I want her to love me, as though any mess in the kitchen or the house would negate that love.
But that is our life in love. We love whom or what we love. We find it hard to love those we don’t love, or don’t deserve our love. Love becoming a four-letter word we cast at the feet of our opponents. You know the type, right? Whenever we use the words, they, them, those, we are lacking love there. Those people. Those Republicans or Democrats. That church down the street. Pick your poison.
You see, I have talked about it before, but the word in 1 Corinthians 13 that Paul uses for love, agape, is not love like we think of love. As romantics, love for us is emotionally driven. So, I try not to use the word in connection to God or our faith in action. Agape love is a deciding love. It is a love connected to knowledge or the mind, not to the fickle human gut reaction. It is getting up in the morning and not feeling something, but It is asking yourself, “I will love today.” Or better, “I will show mercy today.” Because mercy is a hard word. Much harder than love. Mercy being the granting to someone what they don’t deserve. Mercy, which used to be the focus of the work of God in you, the work Christ for you, the love of God expressed to you in mercy. But we took the word, recast it as love, and changed it to Boyfriend-girlfriend language. To God wanting to give you a sloppy-wet kiss like a golden retriever that hasn’t seen you in a while.
No, agape love is mercy, in us, for us, and through us. It is God’s work in us that we need in order to do the things that we hate. To love our neighbors and our enemies without regard for recompense or vengeance. How’s that going for you? How’s the whole litmus test of your love, regardless of how you see yourself, how’s it going in relation to 1 Corinthians 13? Which, by the way, if I hear this read one more time at a wedding, I am going to shove pencils into my eardrums. This isn’t romance. There is nothing romantic about it. It is about a continuous realization that this is not me. I am often impatient. If you have ever tried to get a child ready to go anywhere, you understand. I’m often rude, arrogant, boastful. I have eyes so I can see the neighbors’ grass and how green it is in comparison to mine. I get irritated with stupid little things. I do like myself more than most people. I sure as heck keep records. I know how often I’ve had to shovel snow this year. By myself. And I have a very hard time bearing, hoping, enduring or believing anything let alone, “all things.”
So with this picture, I see here this necessity for mercy to reign in me as much as I have to live out mercy regularly. Begging God to chip away at my heart of stone more and more, in order that mercy might become my default rather than sinfulness or wicked desire.
That is what we find here in our Gospel. The blindman has spent every day of his life begging. Relying on the alms and “mercy” of others. But each day it runs out. The money runs out. The food runs out. The kindness ends when the last pilgrim walks by. So, the next day the man has to take his seat by the wayside begging again. Mercy needed every day, and every day it leaves. Until Jesus. Then Jesus comes in the only way he can and grants mercy. No questions asked except – “What do you want?” “I want mercy, Jesus.” “Here you go.” Faith being a trust that clutches to Christ knowing that in an unmerciful world there is one whose life is lived out in mercy. Granting to those who so often despise him, reject him, take his Word and work for granted, never thinking about the weightiness of there sin upon his back on that cross, and he grants mercy. Not damnation. Not vengeance. Mercy. Compassion. Not romantic, or bromantic love. Mercy being a decision by Jesus – I could do a certain thing. I have every right to do this to you, you deserve it, but I won’t. In fact, I will give to you, and to that other person, that which you will find unbelievable. Should find unbelievable.
Even the disciples could not wrap their minds around the description Christ gives of his work. Because the work we do in mercy is always unbelievable. Forgiveness makes the headlines when the mother of a murder victim forgives the murderer. Christ describing his own murder, but a murder with a purpose. A murder for mercy’s sake. Injustice for mercy’s sake. The victim forgiving the perpetrator.
That is why the Catholic idea of the Eucharistic life has such an appeal to me. The Eucharist, or Holy Communion, Sacrament of the Altar, Lord’s Supper. So many names, but what it truly is for you, is mercy handed to you. You coming forward with all the times this last week that you did not live out 1 Corinthians 13. When your love, unlike Christ’s mercy, has failed. It has ended at some point. And Christ, knowing this, seeing this says to you – “I know you are a sinner dear one. I know all the sins you have. All the thoughts you have had in the dark where you thought they were hidden. I know more of you than even you do. I know your heart, yet here is my mercy. My body broken for you. Dying on a tree, on a cross, for your forgiveness. To grant you mercy rather than justice. My blood for you to drink in order to grant you grace rather than your own works of holiness. Your love fails always, my mercy lasts forever.”
As we enter Lent this next week, (Ash Wednesday. 7pm. Bethany. Be there. Get your ash in church.) Keep that word in front of you – mercy. Look for where it is lacking in you. When you watch or read the news, ask where is mercy here? When you interact with your family, where is mercy there? Don’t make mercy this goal for you to attain. Don’t attempt to try and become more merciful by judging everyone else’s lack of mercy, because you will find that lack of mercy everywhere. Christians judging each other on how “loving” they are by hating one another. That’s great.
Let this Lent be one in which the mercy of God becomes your guiding light. Mercy being found in the Supper of the Lamb. Tasting it on your lips. Leaving from this place with Jesus on your palate. Mercy being digested by your innards so that all the times you aren’t merciful, aren’t able to fulfill 1 Corinthians 13, and don’t understand the whole Jesus dying for you business – Here, have his body, drink his blood. Be forgiven. Washed. Shown mercy, that mercy might envelope every part of you so that Christ might be the love that never fails. Thanks be to God. Amen.