October 27, 2009

Sermon 10/25/2009

Sermon for Reformation Sunday / Proper 25 B texts 
October 25, 2009
Michael Coffey


You can hear him on the street
like so many beggars that we pass by:
Have mercy on me!
Thankfully, it was Jesus he was passing by,
not the likes of us who are too busy
or too suspicious of strangers asking for help,
or too doubting of our own ability to do anything truly good.
But this blind man begging for mercy
heard about Jesus, and then realized he was near.
Now is my chance, he knew it in his blood and in his bones.
Have mercy on me!

This is Reformation Sunday.
This is one day we celebrate
the renewal of the church through the power of the Gospel.
I have to confess I have cheated.
At least we know that we live by grace through faith alone
so I can tell you that.
I cheated.
I’m not using the assigned readings for Reformation Sunday.
I admit I’m a bit tired of the same texts each year
that fit too easily into our Lutheran minds
that they hardly help us continue to reform
whatever it is that has become deformed in the church.
So I cheated,
Forgive me Father, I have sinned.
I used the assigned readings for this Sunday
if you aren’t observing Reformation.
And I think they help us hear about the Gospel message
that awakened Martin Luther’s heart
and many others.

I think this blind begging Bartemaeus,
this alliteration of a man seeking mercy,
gets to the heart of things for us.
He begged and pleaded.
Have mercy on me!
We know too well
there are times and places
where our pleas for mercy
go unheard,
or find no response,
or are met with indifference.

In too many places
and during too many centuries
the church’s theology and practice
have made the pleas of millions for mercy
a plea of uncertainty,
a cry of doubt,
a loud echo fading into nothing.
And in too many places
and during too many centuries
so many people have been kept distant from God
because the mercy of God has been kept from them.
They have simply not been able to know the truth about God
that we call the good news,
and is so often twisted into the bad news.

So in this story of bind begging Bartemaeus
standing by the roadside,
thank God it was Jesus who was passing by.
Thank God it wasn’t me,
or some other person like me
who only partially gets it much of the time,
and only barely lives it most of the time.
Jesus, our brother, Lord, and healer,
is the very life and breath of God
in walking, talking, loving human form.

And so,
this is what that means:
To encounter God is to encounter mercy.
To bring to God your cry of mercy,
is to know the God of mercy.
When our cries of mercy rise up to God
they do not go unanswered,
our cries of forgiveness,
of release from guilt,
of healing and reconciliation,
of easing of pain and grief,
of ending our addictions,
of letting go of our fears.
When mercy is needed,
mercy is granted,
for God is unbounded, heart-felt, compassionate mercy.

This is what was and still gets lost
in the life of the church.
We assume that God’s mercy toward us
is qualified, or quantified,
or bounded, or limited.
The good news that must be heard again and again
is that our cries for mercy are met with mercy.
It is precious good news that got lost,
and found again,
and lost again,
and found again,
and as we gather here today,
maybe we lost it, and maybe we can find it again.

I recently showed the inspiring film Babette’s Feast
for my Spirituality in Movies series.
In the story,
two sisters faithfully serve their father
who is the pastor and leader of a religious community
strongly influenced by Lutheranism,
but perhaps gone a bit stale and crusty.
During their lives
they each meet a man,
and each man loves and desires the woman.
But, they must say no to romance
in order to serve their community.

Years later,
they are sharing the most amazing French meal
that their servant Babette makes for them
after years of simple, adequate meals.
She does this as her great gift,
because she sees how this Lutherany community of faith
has become stale and stuck and crusty and weary.
It just so happens,
that one of the daughter’s old flames
a general who in many ways had it all in life,
is attending this special meal
in honor of the pastor/father, who has since died.

The meal is so powerful and sensuous
and delightful and transforming,
everyone is filled with joy and love and renewed faith.
The visitor who has for years been pained by his choices
regretted that he did not try harder
to win the hand and heart of the daughter,
makes a speech.
After clinging his class
of exquisite champagne
with a spoon, he says:

Mercy and truth have met together.
Righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another.
Man, in his weakness and shortsightedness,
believe he must make choices in this life.
He trembles at the risks he takes.
We do know fear.


But no.
Our choice is of no importance.
There comes a time when your eyes are opened.
And we come to realize that mercy is infinite.
We need only await it with confidence,
and receive it with gratitude.
Mercy imposes no conditions.
And, lo!
Everything we have chosen has been granted to us,
and everything we have rejected
has also been granted.
Yes, we even get back what we rejected.
For mercy and truth are met together;
and righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another.

Can God’s mercy possibly be so great
that our choices do not keep us from life with God?
Can God’s mercy be so endless
that our cries for mercy are met with unwarranted mercy?

This is the radical good news
that we so often domesticate and legislate
and theologize and romanticize.

But to know God in Jesus
is to know this radical word of mercy.
It is real and alive and calling us into the loving arms of the Father
and into the enfolding warmth of a mother.

I don’t know about you,
but I have had some occasions in life,
when I have felt and known the vastness of God’s mercy,
the infiniteness of God’s love,
and the boundlessness of God’s care for me.
Not many, but enough to carry me a long way.
It doesn’t come that strong very often,
but it might only take one or two in a lifetime to carry you.

Maybe Martin Luther only had his one moment
when the beauty and fullness of God’s mercy filled him up
and the sense of release and acceptance and awe changed him.

Sometimes we get it in small doses
and in surprising little ways.
Sometimes we get it in worship in church
and sometimes we get it when we skip church
and hike in the woods and listen to the mystery in the wind.

At the end of an email a friend sent me recently,
he wrote: Keep on feeling the Grace and the Love...it is everywhere!
And suddenly, I did feel it again.
And it was everywhere.
And I loved everyone and everything again.

What happens when this merciful God
reaches into our lives in the good news of Jesus
is nothing short of transformational:
The mercy that God shows you,
You want to show to everyone and everything.
The love of God embraces you
and you want to embrace everyone and everything.
Have you ever known such depths of faith
that you felt like you loved everyone and everything?

This is God’s work in us.
This is the power of the Gospel
that forms and reforms and transforms us,
and the church, and the whole world.
This is what makes us alive and lovers of all
so that we embody the very mercy of God,
and when we walk down the street,
loving everyone and everything,
and some blind begging Bartemaeus cries out to us for mercy,
we will show God’s mercy.
It is living and breathing inside of us.

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