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Happy? Try Merced!
March 5, 1995

MATTHEW 5:7, LUKE 6:36

Are you happy? As happy as you would like to be? Try Merced! Not only by living here, but by being merciful. Happy are the merciful, said Jesus. Our resident historian, Warren Clarke, who is a docent at the County Museum, says that the first explorers in our area found a desert here. Especially when traveling north to Snelling, you get a sense of what it was like here without irrigation--hot, dry, barren. When they came upon the river with its running, cool, clear, refreshing water, they called the river an act of God's mercy, and as they were Spanish speaking, they named the river Merced.

The Hebrew words for mercy are translated in English as mercy, compassion, pity, steadfast love. One Hebrew word which is translated as mercy is derived from the word for womb. The love of a mother for her child is the root meaning of mercy. God's mercy is defined in terms of family love, both father and mother love. Our culture has often neglected the mother images. We have called God Father, and relate to God in masculine terms; yet mercy is a feminine term, coming from a mother's love. Isaiah 49:15, Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Certainly God is as merciful as a mother. Certainly God has compassion for people as a mother has compassion for her children.

In the Old Testament, a person of the covenant, a follower of God, was expected to show mercy in three ways:

1) Family. Mercy was not only expected; it was a duty. Families have mercy for one another. Where mercy is lacking, the family is only a family in name.

2) Tribe or community. You were expected to show mercy to a neighbor and friend.

3) Those who were dependent on the community. You were expected to show mercy to children, the aged, the poor, the orphans, and the widows. It is interesting how our nation is again struggling with how best to be merciful to the children, the aged, and the poor.

In the New Testament, as well as in the Old, to have mercy is to offer aid. Feeling mercy or pity is never enough. Mercy is compassion translated into action. Jesus was constantly asked to show mercy on the sick and the suffering. Jesus was often moved to compassion when confronted with human need, which led him to perform acts of healing or kindness. Mercy is not just an inner feeling. Jesus' inner feeling of mercy led him to act. Therefore, mercy is an inner feeling of compassion which is expressed in acts of kindness.

There is also a strong relationship between receiving mercy and giving mercy. We read in Matthew, Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Is receiving mercy contingent upon giving mercy? If you are not merciful, have you received mercy? Does acting unmercifully counteract, even nullify, the receiving of God's mercy? In Matthew 18:23-35, Jesus told a parable about a merciful king. He tried to collect a debt from one of his servants who owed him 10,000 talents. A single talent was what a laborer earned in 15 years, so 10,000 talents was the equivalent of 150,000 years of work. Faced with being sold into slavery, as well as his family and losing all his possessions, the man begged for mercy. The king was merciful and forgave the debt.

When the happy debtor left, he ran into a fellow who owed him money. He grabbed the fellow by the throat, and demanded payment. When the man pled for mercy, the lender had him thrown into prison. But the story isn't over. When the king heard about the turnaround, he was furious. He called the man back. "I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy, as I had mercy on you?" He then rescinded his forgiveness of the debt, and in anger handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. By acting without mercy, he lost the mercy he had received.

We read in Matthew, Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Be merciful , just as your Father is merciful, is Luke's version. A young professor, in the late sixties, found himself seated on a plane next to Dr. Martin Luther King. He told Dr. King how he was active in the Civil Rights struggle on his own campus, and how he had angered his father. He asked Dr. King, "What can I do to raise the consciousness of my father, to make my father see that he is a racist?" Dr. King put his hand on the angry young man's hand and said, "Your father is doing the best he can. He has not had many of your educational opportunities, opportunities which he has provided for you. As a Christian you must be patient with him and love him." In other words, be merciful. Show him some mercy.

A bishop told a woman pastor who had just finished seminary. "We are sending you to this old, inner-city church. Some wonderful people there. Yet, they are old. The church has been in decline for the last twenty years. Just a handful of them left. They won't expect much ministry from you. Just go there, visit them, and do the best you can." The woman pastor gulped. She wanted some challenges! In her first board meeting, she said to the older women, "I previously thought I had a gift for working with children." One woman answered, "Then the bishop has sent you to the wrong church. We are long past those years here."

In the days that followed, the pastor noticed many children outside her study window. "God," she prayed, "Show me a way to minister here." One afternoon she was visiting with one of her elderly parishioners who told the pastor about her career as a pianist. "I played some of the best clubs on the East Coast. I played with Count Basie, the Dorsey Brothers." A light went on in the young pastor's brain. "Would you play for the church next Wednesday afternoon?" "Sure," Gladys said, "if I can get these poor old bony, arthritic hands to work. I'll take extra aspirin!"

The pastor asked two women to make peanut butter sandwiches. On Wednesday, the four of them rolled the old piano out the double doors of the Fellowship Hall on to the porch. The doors had not been opened in ten years. Gladys sat down at the piano, and began to play. A crowd of children gathered round. She moved from In The Mood to Jesus Loves Me. The pastor told the children a story about a man named Jesus. They promised to come back.

A year later, 100 children crowd into the church every Wednesday afternoon. On Sundays, the Sunday School rooms are full. The children brought their parents. Where there was once death, there was now life in that old church. But the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee asked the bishop to move their new pastor. "It's just not the same church," they said.

Who knows the whole story? The pastor was young. It was her first church. She probably made lots of mistakes. She probably stumbled through some sermons, hurt a few people's feelings. Maybe they didn't like her hair, or her clothes, or the fact she was a woman. Where was mercy? Where was compassion? Where was tolerance? They certainly didn't want change. They didn't want growth; they didn't want children. They asked for a new pastor.

Are you happy? As happy as you would like to be? Has God been merciful to you? Then, try Merced, and be merciful.

© 1995 Douglas I. Norris