“The Greatest Form of Mercy”
Pastor Dan Haugen
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…
Please pray with me…
Every Sunday, whether in the early service or late, we have a style of worship that is beautiful and one that sets us apart from many of the churches today, but that used to be standard practice in almost all churches. Many churches that have been started in the last few decades have decided to part with this style of worship because they find it boring or monotonous. They see it as nothing more than mind-numbed mantra, and that’s really unfortunate. Because this style of worship, if done properly, can truly inspire. Of course, I’m talking about a common Liturgy.
The dictionary defines liturgy as a form of public worship or ritual and I think it’s the ritual part that gets our modern crowd a little nervous. What they fail to see is that, the parts of liturgy we practice every week are there for a reason. Together in the beauty of community we confess our sins together and equally share in the forgiveness God grants to us….every Sunday. Together we make confession of our beliefs as Christians, in community, every Sunday, because the freedom to do that together is so very precious. And, together we recite the prayer our dear Lord has taught us and is our Gospel lesson. We do these things every Sunday because they are that important.
As a community in Christ we do the most intimate things possible in worship as we confess, profess and pray together. It’s really a beautiful expression of togetherness and a great way to show our devotion to God.
Of course, there will always be those who can’t quite understand the beauty of it all. They want to be entertained, and reciting something together, even as important as these things, is just not going to do it. And, you know, I even understand this. It’s the way our society has evolved. We’re a very finicky lot us Americans. If you’re going to win us over, you’re going to have to work for it. So, we do what we must to attract the post-moderns in our neighborhoods. Sometimes that includes big bands and light shows. I feel, however, that to do so at the expense of losing Bible based liturgy is a step in the wrong direction.
Today, as we continue our series, “Having a Beatitude Attitude,” we come to Matthew 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” I picked our Gospel lesson today because I believe that forgiveness is the best expression of mercy there is. I especially want to concentrate on verse 14-15, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Seems like a pretty important command harking back to the words in the Lord’s prayer, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I think it’s beautiful that, after the teaching of the Lord’s prayer, Jesus sums it all up in the Father’s command to forgive.
One of the most beautiful parts of our liturgy is when we are blessed to pray together a prayer that the Lord Himself taught us to pray. Its words come right from the source and focus of our worship. You can’t get a better source than that.
In its words, a whole gamut of prayerful expressions are found. We reach out to God calling His name hallowed and we participate in words that anticipate His coming. We are blessed to ask for things that we need in our lives as we ask for Him to take direction in our lives. And in the middle of all this, we ask for mercy through forgiveness. If you are reciting this prayer as mere words, your missing so many beautiful things that are available to us through this prayer.
And forgiveness is foremost in this prayer. A forgiveness that equals our Lord’s forgiveness of us. Not long before she died in 1988, in a moment of surprising candor in television, Marghanita Laski, one of our best-known secular humanists and novelists said, “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me.”
I think she finally caught onto one of the most important truths in the Christian faith, the ability to receive forgiveness from the Creator. The gift to know, that just in the asking, our sins are washed away. It’s something no human can thoroughly give you. Total forgiveness.
It’s hard for us because we are people of vengeance and not mercy. We like to get even, if only in a small way. We like to see the sinner get his or her due, for them to be able to see the circumstances of their bad behavior, and when that doesn’t happen, we feel cheated somehow. How nice it would be to instead show mercy, to forgive and forget.
One of the greatest blessings we have as Children of God is His great ability to forgive completely. At the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Even at the cross, Jesus Christ was our advocate and he knew that His appeal would be heard and granted.
We are left to wonder, “How could Christ so earnestly ask for our pardon after all He endured?” and why does He still do it today even after we’ve gotten comfortable in our semi-active Christian existence, even after taking advantage of His forgiveness over and over again while never seeming to learn our lessons. In all this, Christ continues to show us the greatest mercy by advocating on our behalf time after time so that we might be forgiven for our reckless and disrespectful behavior.
Hebrews 10:16-17 repeats the promise in Jeremiah 31, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
As we serve our neighbors, this is the same mercy God is looking to see from us towards them. The kind of forgiveness that forgives and forgets. The kind of forgiveness that focuses on mercy instead of revenge.
The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world. Imagine if Liberals and Conservatives could learn to forgive and forget. Imagine what a wonderful country this would be if we set the example of forgiveness in our public service.
Now, forgiveness does not mean tolerance. We are still called to stand up for what is right and to fight against what is wrong. But we are asked to do this with love and forgiveness. This happens so little that it even seems weird to say. Who among us is strong enough to do such things.
Yes, it does take strength to show mercy. It means fighting against our very natures. Yet it’s something the Lord commands from us. We are to be like Him, to be His very image in a hurting world. The best way to shine this light is in the mercy and forgiveness we are willing to give to those who have wronged us. It takes everything we have sometimes to do what we know is right, yet God has given us the strength to succeed even in this.
God says in our Gospel lesson that, if we want to receive His forgiveness, we must be willing to forgive others. Its black and white. Unless you show mercy, you cannot expect God to provide you mercy. Forgiveness is that important. So important that we pray for it every Sunday during our liturgy. So important that it is expected to be in our prayers every day.
Maybe the real key to finding true forgiveness is from where we begin our journey. Maybe it comes through what truly motivates us. Is your desire to be free from anger, revenge and hostility? Is your desire to show gratitude to God for His unending forgiveness of us? Is your desire a restored relationship? Is your desire to be seen as someone of mercy rather than revenge? If this is true then maybe forgiveness is for you.
On the other hand, if your motivation is to finish first, to protect your pride, to have others fear you when they’ve wronged you, then maybe forgiveness isn’t going to be the motivating factor it should be.
It’s really about picking a particular lifestyle. One that puts others first. A lifestyle that doesn’t seek revenge or harm upon their neighbors even when you’ve been wronged. Sounds like the better choice to me.
From now on make forgiveness what defines you. By overcoming hurt while showing mercy in the process, you can truly say that you’ve won. You have overcome one of the hardest challenges in life.
The first to forgive is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forgive is the happiest. Colossians 2:13 tells us to, “bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
These are God given words to live by. If we can discipline ourselves like this, our lives will be stronger, our church will be stronger and our faith will be stronger. May God, who is the strongest of all, lead us always to forgiveness and mercy and may we make His example to us the blueprint towards how we treat others.
Our verse for today, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” But it goes even farther than this:
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37) Amen.