Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Matthew 5:7

Matthew 5:1-10; Psalm 103:6-14 “Blessed to Be Merciful”

  • Sermon Details
  • Pastor Name: Rev. Daniel J. Commerford
  • Date & Time: March 13, 2016

One of my favorite plays is Les Miserables, which tells the story of the life of Jean Valjean, and the many ways his life impacted others. But Jean Valjean’s story begins in a rough spot. At the beginning of the story, he is a prisoner who is paroled, only to find that no one wants to employ or even house a convicted criminal. After some time on the streets, a Bishop finally offers Valjean shelter in his convent. Jean Valjean answers this generosity by stealing all of the Bishops silver and attempting to flee. One of the first pivotal scenes in this story is when Valjean gets caught by the police and is brought back to the Bishop to confirm that it was his silver that was stolen. But rather than condemn Valjean, the Bishop tells the police that he gave away the silver as a gift, and even gave him a pair of silver candlesticks in addition. At this point in the story, the only thing that saved Valjean from a lifetime of imprisonment was the Bishop’s complete and unequivocal mercy.

Maybe we haven’t ever been saved from having to go to prison, but I bet all of us have been in a situation where the only thing that got us out of our mess was mercy that was shown to us. It’s those moments when we deserved nothing more than the natural consequences to our actions, but somehow we were given a reprieve and allowed to start over. Today, we are going to explore our call to show mercy as we continue our Lenten series on Jesus’ beatitudes. We will see how mercy is a foundation to our relationship with God, and how that foundation can serve to propel us with our relationships with one another and with the world around us.

But before we get to that, let’s be honest with ourselves for minute. While we are often more than willing to receive mercy when we need it, it’s often much harder to extend mercy to someone else when they need it. And I think there are a couple reasons why showing mercy is more challenging than receiving it. The first reason is that, at its very core, mercy is about giving someone something they did not earn. As Americans, we are raised to believe that, if we want something, we must work hard to earn it. We go to work to earn a living, we exercise to stay in shape, we practice moral judgment to express our faith. Basically, we believe that the harder we work, the more we can have, and vice versa.

Mercy flies in the face of all of that. Those who are in need of mercy are there because they deserve something else. When I think of someone needing mercy, I think of that driver on GA 20 by Honey Creek who makes their way up the second lane and needs to be let in before it merges to one. Who here has struggled with that person who did not earn their place by waiting in the correct lane? That’s the challenge of mercy in a nutshell! By extending mercy to someone, we are giving someone something they did not earn for themselves, and that can be a challenge for many of us who think that everyone should only get what they earned.

Showing mercy is also challenging because it is always risky. When we show someone mercy, we make ourselves vulnerable to them. There will always be a chance that our mercy will not “pay off.” There will always be a chance that those to whom we show mercy will only take advantage of us for doing so. There will be times when showing someone mercy will mean risking our sense of safety and security. And that can be hard! Showing mercy can often make us vulnerable, which is why many of us are often uncomfortable with doing so.

But Jesus did not tell us to show mercy only when we felt like it. He did not command us to be merciful only when everything works out for us. Jesus commands us to be merciful at all times. Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” If we want to be blessed by being drawn closer into God’s presence, then we must be merciful. And the reason for this necessity is because, at its very core, mercy is foundational to our relationship with God. In Psalm 103, we see that God’s relationship is based on his mercy for us. In vv. 8-9, we see that the Lord is merciful and slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. That mercy is directed towards us! God has every right to be angry with us. Because of our sin and failures, God has every right to turn his back from us. If we wanted to get what we have truly earned, we would all be separated from God forever.

But give thanks to the Lord, for he is merciful and gracious! He is slow to anger, and his steadfast love for us abounds! Time and time again, God has chosen to show us mercy instead of giving us what we deserve. God remained faithful to Israel, even when they worshipped idols. God gave all of us Jesus Christ, the epitome of his mercy, so that we don’t have to fear death. And God has given us his Spirit, who continues to reveal his love for us to this very day. We have not earned any of that! It’s only through God’s mercy that we can have a relationship with him. Just like Jean Valjean, we are completely and utterly dependent on God’s mercy for all of us.

It’s God’s mercy towards us that gives us the ability to be merciful to others. If we think about it, God’s mercy for us cannot be matched. And, if God can be merciful to us, surely we can be merciful to others, right? Through Christ, we know what mercy can look like. He spent much of his life and ministry showing mercy to those who needed it. He spent his time with prostitutes, tax collectors, and lepers. He spent his time with those that society had deemed untouchable, and he gave them mercy! If we want to be imitators of Christ, then we must also be willing to show mercy like Christ showed mercy.

And when we show mercy, mercy will be shown to us! That’s a promise Jesus makes in this Beatitude. I don’t believe that Christ is referring to some kind of cosmic reward we get for showing mercy. Rather, Christ promises us that, if all of us start to show mercy to others, then mercy would inevitably be shown to us because everyone is practicing mercy! When Jean Valjean realized the mercy that was shown to him by the Bishop, he was ashamed of his actions and humbled by the Bishop’s willingness to show him mercy. But the Bishop did not just extend him mercy and leave. He challenged Valjean to take the candlesticks, the symbol of is mercy, and use them to build an honest life. And that’s what he did. The rest of the story is about his work to show mercy to others. He saved an orphaned girl, Cosette, and took her in as his own. Later on, he literally saves the life of Marius, so that Marius and Cosette could fall in love. These are two people who only survived because of the mercy that Jean Valjean showed them.

I think this story, of Jean Valjean’s transformation from a bitter criminal to a loving benefactor, is an important reminder to us that mercy begets mercy! That’s what Jesus means by promising that those who show mercy will also receive it. Imagine a world where all of us as Christ followers choose grace over holding grudges. Where all of us abandon our own desire to give only what is earned so that everyone can be fed. Imagine a world where we make ourselves vulnerable for the sake of lifting up those who are even more vulnerable. Imagine a world where we all show each other mercy. That, brother and sisters, is what the Kingdom of God looks like to me. And God invites all of us to build that kingdom so that we can all show and receive mercy.

As we depart today, I want to challenge all of us to find real and tangible ways to extend mercy to someone! Its easy to leave thinking about it, but it’s even harder to put it into action. Showing mercy may mean forgiving someone who has wronged us. It may mean suspending our opinions about a group of people and giving our money to support them. It may mean getting involved with helping those who are hungry, tired, or oppressed. And all of these will involve giving what has not been earned and making us vulnerable. But God does that for us every day! If God can do it for us, surely we could do it for others! So let us be merciful, so that we can receive mercy when we are in need of it, and bring the whole world closer to God’s abundant Kingdom. To God be all glory, honor and praise, amen.