Putting Mercy into Practice

Genesis 45:3-11, 15; Luke 6:27-38


Sermon

Good morning. As I was preparing my sermon this week, and studying our reading from the Gospel of Luke, I felt like I was watching a documentary on TV. But not a really good documentary like you might see on PBS. You know, like those really expensive nature documentaries, where a camera crew goes to Africa for two years and follows a pride of lions, or Antarctica and follows a colony of penguins. And then it’s narrated by Sir David Attenborough or Morgan Freeman. A really good documentary lasts at least an hour, maybe two, with no commercial breaks. And a great documentary is something like a Ken Burns documentary on the Civil War or World War II; it’s narrated by David McCullough and it’s shown over a week or two. Those are great documentaries, right?

Okay, I know some of you zoned out when I said “documentaries.” And maybe some of you think I’m getting a little too worked up about this. You’re not necessarily wrong. But bear with me.

If those are examples of good or great documentaries, the alternative is what you find on most of cable TV, on The History Channel or Discovery Channel or VH1. The documentaries you find on those networks are, well, average. The narrator is usually some washed-up actor, like William Devane—and if it’s a really bad documentary, you’ll also see a commercial with William Devane pitching some bad investments, like gold or silver.

In all fairness, there are some interesting things on some of the cable networks, but what makes those documentaries average, at best, is that they have lots of commercials. In fact, a lot of that content is produced for people who are just flipping through the channels, hoping to land on something interesting, rather than, say, watching another commercial with William Devane. So, even when there is interesting content in a documentary, every time the program returns from a commercial break, it has to review what was in the previous segment, before the commercial break.

The reading for this morning is a continuation of last Sunday’s reading; this section of the Gospel of Luke is called the Sermon on the Plain. We heard the first part of Jesus’ sermon last week, with “blessed are the poor.” This week’s reading really belongs with last week’s, but there’s too much text here for one sermon, so it’s like a cable TV documentary. The kind of documentary that’s interesting, but if you miss bits and pieces of it, it’s not a big deal.

So, for those of you who weren’t here last Sunday and you’re tuning back into this channel, or if you had a busy week and you don’t fully remember last week’s message, here’s a quick recap: this sermon is about the kingdom of God. We get our first glimpse of what the kingdom looks like for Luke in Mary’s Magnificat, which is found in the first chapter. In Mary’s vision, the poor are lifted up, the hungry are fed; the rich and the powerful are made humble.

This is Luke’s vision of the kingdom of God. Everyone has enough. The hungry are fed, and with the best food. The poor are lifted up, lifted up to a level place. Jesus doesn’t speak to them from a mountain top or even a mountain side. Jesus comes to them and meets them where they are—on a level place. Everyone is equal in the kingdom of God.

In seminary, I was taught to look for the problems in a text, the things that are difficult for the congregation to understand. But this isn’t hard to understand at all. These are simple teachings for disciples who are called to build the kingdom of God. There’s no hidden meaning in the words, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

This isn’t hard to understand, it’s hard to do. The sad truth is, we don’t want to love our enemies. We don’t want to give to everyone who begs from us. We don’t want to practice mercy all the time, but man, do we ever enjoy judging and condemning! Isn’t it great to feel morally superior?

Yeah. No.

But why is it so hard to change? Why is it so difficult to break out of these patterns? Why is it so hard to humble ourselves? Why are we unable or unwilling to repent?

For some of us, I’m sure, the kingdom of God seems so impossible, so antithetical to our own reality, that we don’t want to work that hard to make it a reality. Maybe we don’t believe it’s even possible. More than once, someone has said to me, “Pastor, that’s not realistic!” Maybe we like our reality more or less as it is. And either way, we look for reasons why we don’t have to live into these teachings. We look for reasons why this stuff doesn’t apply to us.

How many times have you seen a homeless person on the street or in a parking lot, and you did everything you could to avoid eye contact? Or you pretended you didn’t have any cash when you were asked for money? And then afterwards, you thought to yourself, “hey, he was just gonna use that money to buy liquor or drugs.” I know I’ve thought and done all those things, too.

In the process, we twist the scriptures so that we can be more comfortable with an unpleasant reality. We turn the kingdom of God into some far away heaven, some eternal r