Sept. 11th: No mercy ... Lord have mercy.
| Jeremiah 4:11-12
1 Timothy 1:12-17
|Sun, September 16, 2001
Rev. Jim Love
|"The world is not what it was 24 hours ago"
"It couldn't be real"
"It looks something like out of a movie"
"Unbelievable, unbearable, outrageous."
"We wake up and the world is not the same for North Americans."
All those faces, people like us; most are strangers but some we know; some
of your friends gone. Jesus wept. And live on TV, the plane comes in and
people are there and a second later flames, and destruction, they are dust
and ashes. Firm structures shake from the weight and collapse into a
billowing cloud so thick, those closest, who lived, said it was so dark we
thought we must be buried, but it was the ash! Images of the ash ... the
taste of harsh and persistent ash.
Some of you bear the marks of outward and inward grief. And for many people
the shock and grief has given way to anger. And I'm not going to say we
should not be angry, that would only make us more furious. There are times
to grieve and there are times to be angry and times to be frightened.
In this part of the world, collectively we are not use to violence striking
so close to home. We are not use to everyday fears of vulnerability and
helplessness. We don't send our loved one's out into the world, as most of
the world does, wondering whether they will be coming home. And now, what
do we tell our children?
We are not as experienced as the rest of the human race where such events on
a smaller scale are the normal course of life. And as this new reality sinks
in for us westerners, we as a people and as persons feel vulnerable,
helpless, and frightened.
We seek answers, pouring over the papers and listening to various points of
view; trying to untangle the complexities of the history that led to such a
violation of human life. Feelings of fear and anger arise, even rage,
What happened on Tuesday was wrong. We hear Christian communities saying it
was wrong. We hear Muslims saying it was wrong. Just as the Crusades were a
violation of Christian faith, people of faith know that this is a violation
of Islam. Why the innocent suffer is a great mystery to us, but we know
that such violence goes against what God desires for humanity.
Amid this sea of grief and anger, we gather in this little ship of a church
to share deep feelings, to receive comfort and for a breath of Good News
from God. But as we listen for God in today's text, I wonder about your
circles of friends? What are they saying?
A lot being said, "AMEN?" A lot is being said, "Some of it popular, and
some of it unpopular." And there is a lot of grief still to be expressed."
There are some of you that want to express your views but fear the clouds of
anger that have arisen" But, I suspect, like me, many of you struggle to
know what to say at all. AMEN?
And into this great collective discussion, enters today's texts. What do we
hear this Lenten Sunday amid the Season after Pentecost?
Last week I wondered about Jeremiah's grief seeming out of place in this
season, but now we understand our grief stricken Jeremiah . reluctant
prophet charged with telling his people that the attacks on them were the
fruit of their own corruption, their own violence, their injustice, and
their rejection of God's ways. The violence Jeremiah grieves is not just
the result of one isolated turning from God's peace and justice, but years
Just as the current violence is not of the kind that is caused by some
isolated injustice, but rather from the accumulation of the multifaceted and
entangled unrighteousness, of ALL THE NATIONS, especially those involved
directly or indirectly in the middle east over many years.
And we grieve for those who pay the price of our collective turning from the
life-giving ways of God. We understand better why Jeremiah's grieves the
people's suffering ... or is it God grieving about the tragedy of the
resulting Exile? You've heard about the tragedy of the Exile. Israel
destroyed, the temple turned to rubble, a great city in flames, the best and
the brightest either executed or sent into exile. A world utterly turned
upside down ... place of grief and rage . even Jeremiah rails at God for
allowing the wicked to prosper; to Jeremiah it appears as if the world
itself is coming to an end. Amid his despair God says, "I will not make a
full end." And as the earth morns .... Even amid what looks like the end,
Good News, God's mercy is already at work.
What about the Gospel of Luke? We hear that the religious leaders complain
against Jesus because he eats with sinners. "This fellow welcomes sinners
and eats with them." They can not believe that God's mercy can extend to
tax collectors; you know who they are, the one's who sold out, who use
violence to bully people into paying their taxes to the Roman Empire ...
plus a bit more for themselves. To the dirty fingers of state power Jesus
will offer mercy; to these tax collectors and to all sorts of sinners.
But, we wonder, "so how does this text speak to the events of this week? We
wonder until we get to the parables of searching. More than ever, we know
about searching. About leaving the 99 sheep to look for that lost one.
Rejoicing in finding just one person alive, and when one is found people don
't ask who are they, whether executive or janitor or rich or poor, out of
the ashes comes life and we rejoice. Such is the response of heaven when
one who is found by God's mercy and brought home.
But there is something strange about this searching. Did you notice that
the economics don't seem to fit the situation? A woman searches earnestly
for a lost coin, worth what? A days wage. She has ten but loses one, and
goes to great lengths to search for it. She lights a lamp, sweeps the
house, gets down in the dirt to look for a single coin; then throws a
celebration for the lost coin. This is the economics of the kingdom? God
spares no expense in searching for those who are lost . perhaps now we
understand this for who would say, "It's too expensive to recover the lost,
no matter who they are."
But then this is not a rescue mission after a disaster or attack . the coins
God searches for are tarnished. These ones whom Christ eats with are people
caught up in the violence of the world. The ones who can no longer stand
behind claims of their essential goodness. Do you remember, the leaders
grumble that he would eat with sinners . that he would extend God's mercy to
even the worst of sinners. But Christ did just that.
This is why Timothy is willing to tell the truth about Paul. The church
knows the awful truth about him . that he was a man of violence . the
church knows the truth that God's searching and compassion even extends to
this persecutor . this . terrorist against Christians. You know the story.
Paul was on his assigned mission to destroy peaceful Christians. And while
on the road to Damascus, the risen Christ appeared to him, poured God's love
and mercy over him . blinded him and turned his world on its head . then
sent him to a frightened Ananias, "Who upon seeing Paul called him brother
saying, "The Lord Jesus who appeared to you on your way here has sent me so
that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And
then, Paul said, "It was as if scales fell from my eyes." Paul becomes an
agent of God's mercy and compassion . with new eyes .... a whole new person
through the mercy of God.
Mercy . No Mercy. God's heart must be breaking in seeing people of God cry,
"No mercy"; in seeing such death and destruction last Tuesday in the US; and
all the merciless destruction we humans seem so quick to inflict upon each
other. Am I wrong in saying that mercy seems in short supply these days. No
mercy for those in the towers. No mercy for the terrorists. "No mercy"
seems humanities response to injustice and evil.
I was struck most by Yasar Arafat. Did you see Yasar Arafat's face last
week. He's afraid . friend or foe he's afraid of what is gathering as a
result of last Tuesday. He even poured out his blood in a symbolic act of
compassion for those Americans who died. Why? Maybe it is because he
realizes what decades of low level warfare has done to his people and to his
enemies people . and such a future for all of humanity is no future.
And yet we hear the harsh pitch of war fevered voices in vows of "broad and
sustained retaliation without mercy." A great cloud of ash and dust is
rising before us as leaders call us to "stoke our anger and hatred."
And the scape-goating has begun; of Americans for their foreign policy; of
those who look like the perpetrators of this ungodly act, of countries that
may or may not harbor terrorists. Attempts to evade the complexities of the
And we know anger is being stoked, just ask Canadians who are Arab or Muslim
... or just wear a turban. A friend phoned a mosque a few days ago saying
that she could imagine how vulnerable the community was feeling and that she
wanted to personally reach out a hand of concern and support. She told him
that she would be reminding her congregation on Sunday that we are not to
generalize to a whole community what may be the actions of a few within it,
and may not. The man began to pour out his feelings, and told me that they
have had so many hate calls, that he would like her to call back and say
what she had said onto the voice mail so that others could hear it. He felt
it would really encourage people.
Why did she do it? Because she remember the words of Paul in Romans 12 "Do
not overcome evil with evil, but overcome evil with good. Paul bears
witness to the good that overcame his evil.
More than ever we need the Risen Christ who tells us, "Be not afraid."
Remember that the cross, the place that looks like despair is really the
place where we discover that the God we worship is not a God who will wipe
the earth clean of evil by pummeling it into submission, but instead is a
God who stretches out his arms and dies for all the world. This Divine
mercy bears witness against the injustice of what happened last Tuesday;
that injustice and all the injustices that humanity inflicts on each other.
Believe in the Risen Christ, who's hands and feet still bear the marks of
his suffering, for he is the one who pours out the Holy Spirit so that we as
a people might know how to proceed in the days ahead.