Mercy over judgement, by Pastor Noel

                September 8 & 9, 2018    Proper 18,B

      “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” So says James in his letter that we heard today. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

      Mercy is an attribute of God that I sometimes describe as part of God’s umbrella of grace over us—mercy includes God’s loving-kindness, and so much that is compassionate and caring.

      One source calls it, “the consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly-pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, furious love of our Father God!”

      God is not the only one capable of mercy. We also are given the gift of mercy—in all its many ways.

      Mercy is the underlying theme of today’s readings. In the Psalm, in the Letter of James, and in this passage from the Gospel of Mark we hear of mercy—and we are given ways to show mercy.

      We are called to be people of healing, and we are called to be people of welcome and inclusion.

      Healing and including are connected, and healing is about much more than our physical bodies.

      When I was in NH I heard about Kelly, a high school student in Vermont, who is helping heal with stuffed animals.

      She had always found stuffed animals to be comforting, and thought that kids in the hospital might benefit from a soft critter to hug. The first year she collected 25 animals, mostly from friends. Then, with the help of her parish, more than 300 cats, dogs, bears, and who knows what else, were presented to Fletcher Allen Hospital.

      Kelly had the opportunity to experience her program from the other side, too. She sprained her ankle playing sports at school, and while she was waiting for medical help, she was given a stuffed animal that she had given to the hospital.

      Her mercy may not bring a cure, but imagine the love and compassion represented by those animals, and felt by the kids who receive them.

      She shows me that anyone can be a healer. We don’t have to have special degrees or education. Anyone can bring mercy and healing. All we have to do is look around and see the many ways we can bring healing and mercy.

      The healing Jesus does is about much more than symptoms or disease. Jesus is showing us how to heal the brokenness of our society, how to restore us to right relationship with each other and with God.

      Healing is about restoring physical wholeness to the individual, and for Jesus healing is also about restoring communion and community.

      Jesus is bringing people back into their families and their community by removing the stigma of illness that pushed them to the outside.

      Jesus is enacting the Kingdom of God, where mercy triumphs over judgment, and inclusion triumphs over bigotry.

      Today we have two stories of Jesus’ ministry to the gentiles. Gentiles, pagans, unclean, outsiders.

      It’s hard for us to understand the shock that must have been felt by those around Jesus as he did these healings. By healing these two people, and by just about everything he did, Jesus broke the cultural rules. He embraced and welcomed the outsiders. To God, everyone is IN.

      Jesus’ encounter with the woman in Tyre is not easy to understand, he seems unaccountably angry. He has gone there for peace and quiet and she seems to burst in on him. Jesus says some very rude and hurtful things to her.

      To call someone a dog was about the worst insult possible—but she responds without anger or hurt.

      She uses a good argument, and she changes Jesus’ mind. She transforms Jesus’ ministry.

      Maybe it’s not too much to say that her words transformed the world. Jesus heard her, and opened his ministry to the world beyond Israel.

      Then he encounters a man who cannot hear or speak, and Jesus heals him.

      In both of these stories Jesus breaks down barriers and crosses boundaries.

      The Jewish religious authorities who opposed Jesus held up the laws of purity as the standard.

      Jews were meant to keep to themselves and have no contact with gentiles. Sick people were often shunned, cast out to fend for themselves and considered unclean, impure.

      The leaders said that ritual purity was what kept one in God’s good grace.

      Jesus said that God’s will for us is being merciful and compassionate, including and welcoming.

      Last week we heard Jesus declare all foods clean—today he declares that all people are clean in God’s eyes. God’s eyes of mercy.

      Ched Myers writes, “The social dynamics of status and honor, which were fundamental in the life of antiquity, are turned upside down to make way for the outcast Jew and alien gentile.”

      Jesus heals the outcast Jew and alien gentile, and shows us how mercy triumphs over judgment, inclusion triumphs over bigotry.

      To be including and welcoming, we may have to be healed of some deeply held convictions.

      The Syro-Phoencian woman and the deaf man and his friends overcame barriers of race, gender and handicap to encounter Jesus.

      What barriers do you find, alive and well in our world even today? We still have boundaries around gender, race and handicaps.

      Fear of the unknown can keep us from receiving and sharing God’s mercy. I shudder to think of the prejudices that have caused me to dismiss another without even listening to them.

      The other day I read the story of a rabbi for whom prejudice was very real.

      It was also, almost laughingly, a case of mistaken ID.

      Rabbi Heschel Gluck was on a bus with an empty seat beside him. Some people got on, took other seats, but one remained standing. When the empty seat was pointed out, they said they didn’t want to sit with “that Bin Laden!”

      In case you missed my intro to this story, he is a rabbi, obviously Jewish, as he himself points out. Long beard, black hat—there is nothing Muslim about him.

      He reminds us that prejudice is not rational. It is an irrational response to anything “other.”

      He says, “Every moral and ethical human being has to be against hatred, discrimination, marginalization of others. At the end of the day we are all human.”

      “We are all human.” That is why Jesus reached out beyond his people, his “tribe.” That is why he healed and shared God’s love on both side of the lake—to Jew and Gentile alike.

      When Jesus crossed boundaries it was for healing and wholeness, it was incarnational. Jesus gave new life, his life, to those situations.

      The stories in our gospel today, and the other readings, too, show us the wideness of God’s mercy and the abundance of his compassion.

      The people who witnessed Jesus’ ministry could not keep silent about this amazingly good news. Where would we be if they had kept silent?

      Where will others be if we keep silent? 

      May we know the joys of all the umbrella of God’s mercy, and may we be reaching out with healing and including.       

            May God’s mercy triumph in us and through us.

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details