Sunday, July 10, 2022

5 Pentecost, 2022-C: Called to show mercy

 Lectionary: Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen. 

This week we collectively mourn the loss of life at the July 4th parade in Highland Park, IL. This latest
mass shooting, by yet another young white male, left 7 people dead including both parents of a 2-year-old child and left a 10-year-old child paralyzed from the chest down. As one eyewitness said, “It was a quiet, peaceful, lovely morning, people were enjoying the parade… to have that peacefulness suddenly ripped apart, it’s scary. You can’t go anywhere, you can’t find peace. I think we are falling apart.” (Source

It certainly feels like that sometimes. Thankfully, peace doesn’t originate outside of us, but within, where God in Christ dwells, within us individually and within our parish community, so it’s always there for us, to restore us when we feel lost or afraid or alone.

As we come together in this holy place today, we shake the weariness of this latest trauma from our hearts and souls and enter our worship asking God to “mercifully receive our prayers… and grant that we may know and understand what things we ought to do, and also… to give us the grace and power to accomplish them faithfully.”

What are the things we ought to do…?

This can be a problematic discussion because it can degrade very quickly into a set of rules or laws that delineate specific things we can and cannot do. In the context of church life, that can reduce us to living lives of freedom-less obedience to a changing landscape of laws architected by the powerful, because as history demonstrates, the rules change as those in power change. Sound familiar?

Thankfully, the rules also change as people grow in wisdom, grace, and faith. The fact that I’m standing here as your priest in charge is evidence of the church’s growth allowing for the ordination of women.

There have always been those among us who must know and clarify every instance in which any specific rule does or doesn’t apply. It’s how the 10 commandments morphed into nearly 700 rules to live by. There have also always been those who misuse the rules in order to thin the herd: if you disobey our rules, you’ll be cast out of our community, or worse yet, cast into eternal damnation.

Please understand: I’m not suggesting that living in faith means living with no rules. On the contrary, I believe that rules - or canons as we call them in the Episcopal Church - customs, and traditions help us live together in peace, with fairness, and provide a firm foundation from which we can evolve and grow from generation to generation.

What I don’t believe is that obedience to rules or traditions can lead us to eternal life. That path can only be found in the heart, which is what (I think) Jesus was demonstrating in today’s gospel.

The lawyer in this story asks Jesus: ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds by asking what the law says. Familiar with the law, the man answers by quoting from Deuteronomy (6:5): You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.”

Right, says Jesus. Do this and you will live.

Luke says that the next question the lawyer asked was to justify himself, in other words, to affirm for himself that he is doing it right according to the law. Jesus answers with the story of the Good Samaritan.

You all know this story. At the end of it, Jesus asks which of the three men who saw the dying man was a neighbor to him. The one who showed him mercy the lawyer says.

Right again, Jesus says. Now you go and do likewise.

But the question remains: how do we know what we ought to do? How do we know when to keep the law and when to set it aside for mercy’s sake?

The answer can be found in the story from Amos. God provides Amos with a vision of a plumb line, which is, of course, a vertical reference line: heaven to earth. From now on, God says, this is us. We are forever connected and from that connection you will know how to go.

This ties into the great commandment Jesus gave us to love God with all we are – heart, mind, soul, and strength. It’s a love that gives God preference over us, our understanding, and our rules. To love God in this way is to choose to be merciful in every moment, in any circumstance, and to trust in God’s ultimate plan of love for the whole world even when that world is fraught with violence and destruction.

Another important point in the Amos story is that the plumb line is in the midst of a community. This isn’t about our individual relationship with God but our relationship to God as a community of God’s people.

Has anyone ever experienced a time in church when some with power or influence pressed their own agenda onto the community? They might have honestly thought they were advocating for what was best for the community but they also forgot that God’s plan is often more than we can ask or imagine (Eph 3:20) and sometimes it takes time to unfold, and that time can be uncomfortable or costly.

The letter to the Colossians reminds us that there will be moments each community needs to endure patiently. We’re in one of those moments right now as many of us feel like we just can’t or don’t want to endure any more pandemic restrictions that continue to hinder our in-person parish life. But as a people called to show mercy, we must prioritize the needs of those among us who are at higher risk from the virus variants over our own desire to be done with this pandemic.

I hope it helps to know that we are currently working to find the both-and solution to this moment. Pray for us as we seek God’s guidance on this.

As a people called to show mercy, we must remember that action is required. The law of the time prohibited the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan from touching the dying man, but the Samaritan touched him anyway, bandaging his wounds and carrying him to a safe place where he could heal. He even paid the man’s rent. The Samaritan didn’t offer thoughts and prayers, he offered aid.

When we think about it, we know what we ought to do. Each of us individually and us as a community - we know. The real question is: do we have the will to do it?

It sometimes feels like we’re spitting into the wind; like there’s more to be done out there than we can do. When we feel like that, we must remember that our hope is in Jesus Christ whose promises are true. So, we do not despair. We act, shattering the categories the world has about those who are or are not neighbors worthy of our mercy and care.

Mother Teresa says, “There is a light in this world, a healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, too much pain. Then suddenly the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.”

We are those people. As the body of Christ, the Church, we are never alone, and we’re nourished regularly by Word and Sacrament, which means our strength is never depleted. Never.

As we transition culturally from a generation that goes to weekly church services out of duty or obedience to the rules to a generation that dismisses (some even abhor) the institutional church and its rules, it’s important to remember that the body of Christ is now as it has always been – a community of people in whom God in Christ dwells. When the world looks at us, they should be able to see us doing justice, acting mercifully, and walking humbly with God. (Mic 6:8)

The church in every generation is faced with situations that cause us to look beyond our rules, traditions, and customs in order to respond with mercy; in order to grow in wisdom, grace, and faith.

I close with a prayer borrowing some of Paul’s words to the Colossians. Let us pray...

May we be “filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding… May we be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power, and may we be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to [God], who has enabled us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” (9-12) Amen.

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