Bible Reading James 2:8-10, 12b-13
One law rules over all other laws. This royal law is found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” If you obey this law, then you are doing right. But if you are treating one person as if he were more important than another, then you are sinning. That royal law proves that you are guilty of breaking God’s law. A person might follow all of God’s law. But if he fails to obey even one command, he is guilty of breaking all the commands in that law… You should remember this in everything you say and do. Yes, you must show mercy to others, or God will not show mercy to you when he judges you. But the person who shows mercy can stand without fear when he is judged. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (ICB) (+13b (NIV))
Message Craving Righteous Mercy Through Mercy Jesus proclaims how satisfied are we who are willing to be transformed by Him. That transformation begins when we realize that sin has broken our relationship with God (we are poor in spirit) which makes us sincerely sorrowful for the damage our sinful nature has done (we mourn). As we call out to God, he responds in grace by allowing us again into his presence restoring the relation-ship where he is our God and we are his people -- we are invited into his (kingdom). As we confess our sins with sorrow we are (comforted) by God’s grace that helps us leave that old life behind and we are able to live more and more like we ought and want to live… We no longer feel the need to exhibit external strength and control others because we discover a new inner strength of Christ within (meekness) that allows us to relax in God’s control, granting us the ability to act with self-disciplined, gentle, confident service as we participate in Christ’s ever-expanding rule (on the new earth we will inherit) until every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. (Phil 2:9-11)
Within our hearts and in our world, there is a progressive movement of growth in this restored relationship and new life with God at the helm. The more fully we experience this, the more fully yet we want to experience him and his goodness. That is why Jesus continued by teaching them:
L: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,
P: for they will be filled.
This is intense language. Imagine a baking hot barren rocky wilderness; where most watering streams and pools evaporate leaving dry cracked, dirt in its place. If there is any vegetation, it is brown and nearly empty of nutrients. In that blistering heat, you'd think animals would want to find shade and rest -- but their famishment and dehydration instinctively drives them to keep searching for nourishment. This need is not met by cup of tea or mid-morning snack, it is only met with perpetual acts of finding and consuming food and beverage before health can be restored.
It is true of all these opening statements in Jesus’ sermon, but it is most easily seen in this one: that they are not a how-to-do-list that we check off, as if we’ve done the poor thing and that’s over. We’ve mourned and that’s past. Inner strength comes completely and instantaneously so that we never feel weak again. And now we are filled so that we will never be hungry again. No. I ate my fill yesterday, nearly; and yet, I am going to be hungry again sometime today! If hunger and thirst ever go away, it isn’t for very long. The same is true of our spiritual life...
Our spiritual health is sustained by ongoing searches and satisfactions, after which we are thirsty and hungry again. Blessed is the person
who continues to passionately pursue and nourish their ever-progressing relationship with Jesus Christ.
Is your soul thirsty for the Lord? Is he your passion? Do you yearn to know
Jesus Christ more and more intimately? Are you longing to be sated by God?
The apostle Paul, late in his life, mature in Christ, unwavering in struggles, numerous amazing experiences, incredible faith accomplishments, and even heavenly revelations; declared
I consider everything a loss compared to the sur-passing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord... not having a righteousness of my own... but through faith
in Christ… Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me... I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (From Phil 3:8-14 NIV)
The more Paul knew Jesus the more he wanted to know Jesus. The more he progressed in spiritual strength, the thirstier for God he became.
What hinders hunger and thirst for Christ? When we take our relationship with Christ for granted and become complacent in our faith, and/or we settle for things we think will satisfy us well enough and fall short of taking hold of Christ alone.
Ronald Meredith writes, out of a quiet spring night came the sudden sound of wild geese flying across a moon backdrop. It stirred the tame mallards swimming on the [muddy] pond. They heard the wild call their instincts had once known. Their wings fluttered a feeble response. The urge to take their place in the sky for which God made them was sounding in their feathered breasts, but they were unable to rise from the water. The ease of barnyard corn had been too tempting. Now the call of the wild only uncomfortably reminded them of what they could have been. Temptation [to complacency] is always enjoyed at the price of losing [our destined] capacity for flight. (Abridged from Hurryin' Big for Little Reasons)
Jesus says, Happy, whole, blessed are those who do not settle for substitute corn and muddy pondwater, but continue to have a never ending passionate thirst and hunger for Jesus himself, who leads us to still waters (Psalm 23:2) and offers himself and his Spirit to us as a perpetual spring of living water, (See John 7:37-39) leaving us con-sistently filled and satisfied.
As we continue to long for more of him and his goodness to fill us, and he satisfies us with his presence and his goodness within, we become more like Him; which is why Jesus continued teaching them,
L: Blessed are the merciful,
P: for they will be shown mercy.
Becoming more like Him means we become mercy-filled. Merciful people show God's acceptance of others, even if they seem to be unworthy, guilty, in the wrong, because they have already realized (from the previous beatitudes) that they themselves have been unworthy, guilty, and in the wrong. We treat others as we would want to be treated and we don’t play favorites or “unfavorables”. This is what we heard in our pre-sermon reading from James. We have all broken the law in one way or another, and if it has been broken on any point, it is completely broken. It doesn’t mean we approve every action and attitude and opinion of others, (any more than we should approve of the sin revealed within ourselves) but we do for each other what Christ did for us. He came to a manger to get inside our skin and see life as we see it, he sought to understand, and he accepted us and forgave us even as we put him on the cross. And if God can accept and forgive us after what we did to His Son, who are we to withhold mercy and acceptance from others just because our failure in the law is in the past, or is in a different area than another’s failure in the law?
As Luke records Jesus’ sermon, he elaborates on this concept --
“If you love [only] those who love you, [who think and act like you] what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
(From Luke 6:31-36 (NIV))
On a practical level, we do it because it is in our own best interest. As some people have said, • If revenge is sweet, why does it leave such a bitter taste? • Revenge is the sword that wounds the one who wields it. • No man can force me so low as to make me hate him. • Hate does not eat the person we aim it at, but the person who hates. In short, a lack of mercy and unforgiveness tends to do to us what we wish it would do to the person we have not forgiven.
But more importantly, it is not a legalistic transaction. We don’t forgive because “God says I have to forgive”. It is not a business transaction. We don’t offer mercy because, “That is how we acquire mercy”.
We are merciful because God is merciful.
We offer mercy and forgiveness because we are taking on God's nature and that is His nature. It is what he has done for us, it is what he wants to do for others, it is what he wants his children to express to others.
A story told by AP Press and reflected on by Max Lucado.
Susanna Petroysan heard her 4-year-old daughter Gayaney's pleas, "Mom, I'm so thirsty. I want a drink." But there was nothing she could do. They were trapped beneath tons of collapsed concrete and steel. Concrete and crumpled water pipes 18 inches above her head prevented her from doing anything but moving left and right flat on her back. Beside them in the darkness lay the body of her sister-in-law Karine, one of the 55,000 earthquake victims in northwest Armenia. (Dec 7, 1988).
In that eternal night - they were trapped for 8 days. Susanna lost track of time. Due to the cold, she lost feeling in her fingers and toes. She lost hope. She waited for death but wanted her daughter to live. She hallucinated. she slept briefly. But was always awakened - the cold, the hunger, or most often, the voice of her daughter. "Mommy I'm thirsty."
At some point, Susanna remembered a TV program about an Artic explorer who was dying of thirst. His friend slashed his hand to give his friend some blood. She had no water, no juice, no liquids. But now she remembered she had her own blood.
Her cold numb groping fingers found a piece of shattered glass. She sliced her left index finger and gave it to her daughter to suck. The drops weren't enough. "Please, Mommy, cut another finger." Susanna had no idea how many times she cut herself. Though the doctors are divided about how much it helped, this mother felt that if she hadn't, Gayaney would have died, that her blood was her daughter's only hope. (Abr, https://www.apnews.com/edb7271a218c0874df4479740ec5d340) So the hand was cut, and the blood was poured, and the child was saved.
Beneath the rubble of a fallen world, [Jesus] pierced his hands. In the wreckage of a collapsed humanity, he ripped open his side. His children were trapped, so he gave his blood. It was all he had. His friends were gone. His strength was waning. His possessions had been gambled away at his feet. His blood was all he had. But his blood was all it took. We pray, “God we are so thirsty” So for our sins and the sins of the world, he brings life out of sin’s certain death, the hands are pierced, the blood is poured, and humanity is saved. (Ad. Applause from Heaven)
God sees our need, our mourning, our weakness, our hunger, our thirst, our need of mercy; and He comes to give us the Kingdom, to give us comfort, to give us the new earth, to give us satisfaction. Blessed, happy, are you who hunger and thirst after a right relationship with God, for you will learn to give mercy as he has given mercy to you...
Prayer Let's pray. Lord, we ask for more and more of your strength to do what is otherwise impossible -- to forgive the persons, who from our perspective, wrong us or you. Prune off any anger or bitterness, move us from our comfortable spots, and empower us to freely do what Christ has so freely done for us. Saturate us with our love for you that we can be free to give for each other what we have freely received. In Jesus name, Amen.
Hymn # 453 (vv 1,2) More Love to Thee
Everything good is in God's will. All that is good comes from his Hand. Desire to please him as he fills your minds and hearts with his love. Now go loving God in all things and above all things. Reach for the joy he has prepared for you. Amen.
Closing Hymn # 389 Freely, Freely