Sermon for Pentecost Eight:
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We sing the “Kyrie” as part of our gathering rite at the beginning of Sunday worship. Most of the settings in our cranberry ELW have the same translation of the text that we sang in the green book and the red book and the black book before that. They say, “Lord, have mercy.”
We sing setting 10, “Have mercy on us Lord, and hear our solemn prayer. We come to hear your living word; it saves us from despair.”
Christian author, Kathleen Norris, writes that her grandmother Norris would never have used any swear words that would need to be bleeped out of a sermon, but when situations arose where others might use that kind of language, grandmother would say, “MERCY!” It seemed to cover things well.
Today’s gospel story of the Good Samaritan is very familiar to anyone who is a regular church-goer. It is even fairly well known by the general public. If nothing else, they know it is the name of a hospital. Most people know what a Good Samaritan is, even if they can’t retell the story.
A lawyer asks Jesus a question. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus turns the question back onto him. The lawyer answers with the commandments to love God and love your neighbor. Jesus tells him that he got the answer right. Do this and you will have eternal life.
But, the lawyer needs more clarification. He asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” That’s a good question, isn’t it? Is my neighbor the person who lives down the street? Do I have to include everyone who lives in St. Paul? Howard County? Nebraska? The whole country? The whole earth? Just who is my neighbor?
Jesus answers by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. Then he asks the lawyer the question again. Who was the neighbor in the story? The lawyer gets the answer right again. The neighbor was the one who showed mercy.
Notice the lawyer doesn’t say, “The Samaritan was the good neighbor.” It is almost as if he doesn’t want to say the word “Samaritan.” We remember, of course, that the Jews and the Samaritans really didn’t like each other.
From the distance of our perspective, Jews and Samaritans would have been very much alike. They had the same religion. They just had their religious headquarters in different places, you know, like Constantinople and Rome, or like Chicago and St. Louis. They were so much alike that their few differences made them think they should agree on everything. In other words, they disliked each other with the intensity that only members of the same family can dislike each other.
The lawyer doesn’t say the word Samaritan. He calls the man merciful. Some have even called the story, the “Merciful Samaritan.” Mercy is more than just goodness. The Samaritan is an example of mercy.
We often think of mercy when we think of the judicial system. As in, “I throw myself on the mercy of the court.” But, the word Luke uses in this parable means more than forgiveness for a debt or for a crime.
The word mercy also means blessing and compassion, the kind of compassion you feel in your gut for someone who is hurting. Mercy is about pardon for sins, but it is also about kindness and strength. It is about rescue and generosity that is completely undeserved. It is a powerful word.
Mercy is a word at the heart of many prayers. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” These are the words of the ancient Jesus Prayer, prayed in silence, or prayed with the rhythm of breathing, or prayed aloud repeatedly with others.
We sing our mercy prayer at the beginning of our worship with our Kyrie. We pray, “Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer” when we pray our prayers of intercession. There are petitions for peace, for salvation, unity, church leaders and all the people, for all nations and all cities, for good weather and abundant crops, for travelers, the sick, the suffering and those in captivity. Mercy is at the heart of all of our prayers.
The words we use when we sing and pray work their way into our hearts and minds. They become a part of who we are almost automatically as we repeat them.
Time after time, Sunday after Sunday, litany after litany, prayer after prayer: “Lord have mercy” gets engraved on our hearts. “Have mercy on us, O God ” gets inside of us. Standing alongside family and friends and strangers petitioning God and calling down God’s mercy, we begin to see ourselves linked together as the ones needing mercy.
We realize that we are not the Samaritan in the story as often as we are the stranger beside the road. We have all been hurt. We all have difficulties in our lives. We all have sins and regrets.
We have all suffered at the hands of the robbers and we have all been the robbers. We all need strength and blessing, forgiveness and rescue. We all need the One who is merciful to come and save us.
Jesus is the Samaritan in this story. He is the stranger who came to earth and treated us as his neighbors. He is the One who risked his own life to rescue us from certain death when we were lying on the side of the road.
He is the One who paid the price to heal us. He is the one who went on his way, not knowing if we would ever wake up and be grateful. He is the one who promised to come back to us. He is the one who showed us mercy.
Jesus is the One who makes all of us neighbors. He makes us neighbors not just with those who are like us and live near us. He makes us neighbors with people who worship differently, or not at all. He makes us neighbors with people who have different political beliefs, different languages, different cultures.
Jesus is the One who makes us all neighbors. He is the One who shows us all mercy. He bids us to “Go and do likewise.”
Let us pray.
Have mercy, O God. Make us merciful. Make us mercy bearers. Make us bear the fruit of mercy. Make us more than good, make us merciful. Beyond bloodlines and country and creed: make us mercy to all we meet. Amen.